Contrary to popular belief Valentine’s Day was not created by the combined efforts of the Hallmark greeting card company, FTD florists, and the chocolate truffle industry. It came about from the story of a priest in third century Rome, named Valentine.
As the story goes Emperor Claudius II (known behind his back as “Claudius the Cruel”) was waging several difficult military campaigns. He believed that soldiers fought better if they had no families at home; hence he forbade young men to marry. Valentine, believing that young people should not only marry but also have God present in their relationship, secretly married couples defying Claudius. For this he was executed (by decapitation) in 269 A. D.
Before dying he sent a letter to a blind girl he had been praying for and signed it “from your Valentine.” The rest, of course, is history; and a piece of history that no self-respecting entrepreneurial greeting card company could possibly ignore.
Today marriage seems to be in a state of disrepair. There is such a high rate of divorce that first marriages are sometimes called “starter” marriages. There’s strong social debate on civil unions and same sex marriages. Young people often fear that marriage may ruin their relationship. At any rate no one thinks marriage is easy, especially whoever wrote the wedding service: “for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health…”
Perhaps St. Valentine, in support of marriage, might say love needs to be more than just a warm fuzzy feeling for someone. After all it’s as easy to get a warm fuzzy feeling about someone as it is to make yourself yawn. Love requires a decision of the will, an intentional, determined choosing of another that will help both get through the “better or worse” parts of their future.
Valentine’s Day may have become one of the secular world’s high holy days, but it’s also a good time to think about the peculiar power of love. Love is both the strongest and weakest force in the world. It’s strong enough to conquer that most impregnable of fortifications, the human heart; yet it can only do so with the consent of the conquered. Love can breach a wall, but can do so, not by its own strength, but only at the invitation of the one whom the wall defends.
Love has a strange arithmetic to it. You see this at every wedding. One person plus one person does not equal two persons. When two people give themselves away in love to one another it creates a new life-form, a new being that equals much more than two. My math skills never got me past Algebra 101 so don’t ask me how it works. It just does. Being a preacher I’m tempted to say it has something to do with holiness and that love is of God.
On the other hand it might be wise to recall Charlie Brown who said, “All you need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
Reverend Ray Anderson is a priest at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Cheshire.