St. Valentine

Valentine’s Day is a less than a week away. On this day we celebrate love, romance and the beheading of St. Valentinus. Wait a minute, what? Yeah, that’s right. Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14th every year to commemorate the death of a 3rd century Saint who was martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ. It’s hard to believe that a day meant to remember the faith of a courageous man could be transformed into the holiday for lovers, but as we dig deeper into the story, there are a few connections.

Who Was Valentine?
The true story of St. Valentinus is hard to come by. As it turns out, Valentine was a popular name in centuries past. The name comes from the Latin Valens, meaning strong and powerful. In all, there are around a dozen St. Valentines officially recognized on the Roman Catholic roster. There was even a pope named Valentine who served for a brief period of time in the 9th century. However, it is most likely that the St. Valentinus we celebrate on this day was a Roman priest who lived and died in the 3rd century.

While many legends about St. Valentine have circulated over the years, there are a few notable stories that ring true. He served as a priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II who persecuted the Christian church bitterly. Claudius II declared an edict at that time prohibiting the marriage of young people. This was based on his opinion that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers who were more cautious and fearful of losing their lives and leaving their families behind. The Christian faith promoted marriage as a gift from God and Valentinus refused to submit to this edict. He encouraged young couples to marry and helped facilitate this by performing secret marriage ceremonies. Eventually, he was caught and imprisoned for violating this edict.

While in prison, Valentine shared Jesus with one of the justices assigned to his case. This judge, Asterius, had a daughter who was blind. He challenged Valentinus to pray for her to be healed and validate his claims that Jesus was God. Valentinus laid his hands on her, prayed for her sight to be restored and she was healed! Asterius became a believer in Jesus Christ as a result of this.

It is said that Valentinus sought to convince the Emperor Claudius II himself that Jesus Christ was God. As a result of his boldness, the Emperor was enraged and sentenced him to be executed. In the year 269 AD, Valentinus was sentenced to a three part execution of beating, stoning, and decapitation.

“Be my Valentine”
One of the most popular traditions celebrated on Valentine’s Day is the giving of Valentine cards. Indeed, as a nation we will spend close to 1.5 billion dollars just on cards this Valentines Day. This is perhaps the most closely linked modern day tradition that can find its’ origins in St. Valentines story. As the story goes, on the day he was to be executed, Valentine’s last words were written down on a letter addressed to the daughter of Asterius who had been healed of blindness. He signed the letter, “from your Valentine.” Apparently, this expression has inspired the millions of hopeless romantics today who sign off their love notes with his name.

The Making of a Holiday
Around 498 CE, Pope Gelasius chose February 14th, the day of Valentine’s martyrdom, to commemorate his life. As fate would have it, Valentine’s Day fell the day before the Roman fertility feast Lupercalia, a drunken, sex-crazed, orgy festival (think Mardi Gras). During the 5th century, all public performance of pagan rites had been outlawed. However, festivals like these don’t die easily. The activities continued while the official calendar day recognized St. Valentine. Thus the day of the festival and St. Valentine’s martyrdom came to be intertwined.

We have to fast forward to the 14th century before we see further development of the modern day holiday. In his work “Parliament of Foules,” the great English poet Geoffrey Chaucer linked the tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s day (an association that didn’t exist until after his poem received widespread attention). His poem refers to February 14 as the day birds (and humans) come together to find a mate. When Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he may have invented the holiday we know today.

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Faith and Politics

The church I grew up in had a special guest one Sunday morning who was running for president. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that everyone was encouraged to vote for this candidate because he was a Christian. I thought that sounded like pretty sound advice as a youngster, but now… I’m not so sure.

Let’s get one thing straight; I don’t usually blog about politics. It’s generally a very divisive topic. As a pastor, I’m taking my cues from Jesus who repeatedly refused to engage in political arguments. On one occasion, the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus into answering an impossible question, “is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?” Jesus response revealed his divine wisdom and serves as a guideline for his followers, “give back to Caesar what is Caesars, and to God what is God’s” (Mt. 22). Jesus seemed to promote the very first “separation of church and state” position. Not in the sense that he would be against prayer in schools, but he does seem to indicate that there is a healthy distinction to be made when it comes to faith and politics.

After watching Donald Trump stumble through a 2 Corinthians quote a few weeks back at Liberty University, I couldn’t help but think we’ve reached a new low in political pandering to the religious audience. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to see public figures profess their faith. However, it can be uncomfortable when they begin presenting the virtues of faith right alongside their new healthcare program. Think about it, choosing a candidate based on religious preference can be tricky. First of all, every president we’ve ever had in the U.S.A. has been a Christian (at least officially), so how are we supposed to figure out who is genuine and who is just grandstanding? Presidential candidates will make all sorts of promises and claims in order to get elected. Being an evangelist to certain religious groups has proved to be an effective political strategy. Both George W. Bush and Barrack Obama capitalized on their popularity within certain faith communities. It has become a tried and true method to win votes for the election.

I’ve heard some suggest that we can discern whether or not a candidate is a genuine believer based on their morality and their policies. I have a hard time accepting this. Frankly, I’m beginning to think it impossible to find a candidate who is committed to meeting the needs of the poor (a Biblical mandate) who is also committed to protect the lives of the unborn (another Biblical mandate). Furthermore, I’ve noticed that there are an equal amount of R’s and D’s in front of the names of disgraced politicians who have failed to meet basic moral standards. Maybe you’ve noticed this too?

It might sound like heresy, but I’m not convinced that God selects world leaders based on their faith in him, or lack thereof. The scriptures seem to indicate God selects world leaders (Psalm 75:7; Daniel 2:21), however, they also seem to suggest the Pharaoh was his choice, and that Nebuchadnezzar was his choice. I’m not saying we should throw our values out the window when it comes to supporting one politician over another, but neither should we give a hall pass to the candidate who carries a big King James Bible and sits in a pew on Sunday morning. Perhaps more important than electing potential candidates for office is our duty to pray for and honor the ones we have (1 Tim. 2:2). If we spent more time and energy doing this, rather than getting tangled in political debate, our country would be better for it.