http://www.dailyguideghana.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/valentine.jpg St. Valentine would be worried to see from his place of rest, all that people do in his 'memory and honour' today.
This article is meant to trace the historical background of St. Valentine and see if he has any connection with what is celebrated on 14 th February each year and draw some conclusion by way of lessons for the Christian of the 21 st century and all who celebrate the memory of this popular and widely-known saint.
a. Historical Background of Saint Valentine
We do not know much about St. Valentine and as a result of this we are presented with a little more than sketchy historical facts. The good news is that from the little that we know, it is possible to discern something of his courage and fidelity to Christ as a martyr.
Actually, two saints bearing the same name are honoured by the Roman martyrology on February 14. The first one is St. Valentine, Bishop of Terni.
He became Bishop around 197 AD and lived in Interamna (modern Terni), a city 50 miles north east of Rome. He was imprisoned and tortured to death under Emperor Aurelian. The other one is St. Valentine, a priest and a physician in Rome.
The evidence available shows that it is the latter, that is, St. Valentine of Rome, the priest whom we venerate more popularly today, since the Mass for February 14 (now limited to local celebrations) is that of a Martyr and not a Bishop.
The few facts that are known about this saint is not only confused with that of the Bishop but also shrouded in myths and legends. It is probably safe to assume that St. Valentine's priestly life kept him close to his people, for his memory was preserved in their writings and traditions.
Pope Julius I built a Church in his honour in 350 AD, shortly after his death. He was honoured as early as the 7 th century in the liturgy with a special Mass.
St. Valentine is known to have lived a courageous and faithful life which led to his martyrdom.
In an attempt to suppress Christianity without violence, Emperor Valerian issued an edict in 257 AD forbidding the clergy to celebrate the sacraments. He claimed that he was preventing the Christians from worshipping in private.
This was an absurd claim because Christian worship is, by nature, social, centring on the Mass and the celebration of the other sacraments.
He struck at all Christians who gathered to celebrate by attacking the priests. Some stories have it that St. Valentine went about celebrating the sacraments irrespective of the Valerian edict which was in force during the time of Emperor Claudius II.
Claudius II who succeeded Valerian was also having a difficult time getting soldiers into the army at a time when Rome was involved in many wars. He decreed and forbade the men in the army from celebrating their marriages, because according to him, this made them inactive in war.
St. Valentine opposed this decree by aiding the men and secretly celebrating marriages for them as he went about his priestly duty with zeal and courage. He was found out eventually and imprisoned by the Emperor.
While in prison, he became friends with his jailer who was called Asterius and his daughter, Julia, whom he healed from blindness. He performed many other miraculous cures and gave much wise counsel, especially to fellow prisoners.
On February 14 in the year 269 AD, under the rule of Emperor Claudius, he was beaten with clubs and beheaded. Before his death, he is said to have written a letter to Julia and signed it, 'From your Valentine.' In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius set aside February 14 to honour St. Valentine with a memorial.
Why Is He The Saint Of Lovers Today?
February 14 arrives each year as a blessing to those who are so shy that they need a disguise for expressing their love and affections.
The custom for sending 'Valentines' or love notes had its origin probably in the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia, a feast celebrated in honour of Juno, Queen of Roman gods and goddesses as well as women and marriage.
Around this time, there was a popular belief that halfway through the second month (February 14-15), birds began to mate. For this reason, the day was regarded especially consecrated to lovers. One of the customs and ways of celebrating the period at this time was name drawing.
On the eve of Lupercalia, the names of Roman girls and young women were placed in a box from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed.
These would be partners throughout the duration of the festival and often they would fall in love and marry.
St. Valentine whose feast was celebrated on that day was inevitably chosen as their patron and protector. Thus, it was nothing more than a coincidence that made St. Valentine the esteemed patron of lovers.
Probably, the first reference to St. Valentine in his role as patron of lovers was made by the poet, Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400), who wrote in his poem 'Parliament of Foules': 'For this was on Valentine's day, when every foul cometh to choose his mate'.
On 14 th February each year, therefore, there is sadly what appears to be a celebration in honour of St. Valentine of which there is no connection but a mere coincidence.
Those who celebrate love on this day claim that St. Valentine died for love but in actual fact, every martyr dies because of his love for Christ.
A martyr is not afraid of the sword and this is exactly what St. Valentine did, not so much the myths in which he celebrates the marriage of couples and is caught and killed or the sending of a love card to a jailer's daughter with the sign From your Valentine.
Is Valentine Day Worth Celebrating Today?
Looking at its pagan roots, and what pertains today, many a Christian would not want to be associated with the feast of lovers.
This is evident from the fact that in the Church's liturgical year, the sanctorial cycle celebrates Saints Cyril and Methodius on February 14 and is very silent about St. Valentine. In actual fact, in most Catholic Churches, nothing is said about him.
This may be due to the fact that unlike some Christian festivals like Christmas which really transformed and took the place of pagan feasts (Christmas, the birth of Christ, took the place of the feast of the sun god), this time it is a secular practice that is seeking to take over a Christian feast.
Thus, while St. Valentine is a Christian saint and is honoured with a Mass, that of Lupercalia is secular and people celebrate it the way they choose which sometimes is very worrying.
Presently, some people see the day (in some places, it is a period or season) as an occasion to indulge in all forms of uncontrollable pleasure. They choose the day for free sex, free booze, free orgies and free prostitution. Some choose the day to propose love to somebody they are shy of and others engage in debauchery of all kinds.
There still are some who simply exchange cards, tokens of love, gifts to parents, friends, relatives and those who are dear to them. This, I think, is the way to go if the day is to be celebrated at all.
What needs to be done?
There is a lot that can be done to make Valentine's Day worth celebrating if it is to be celebrated at all. The Christian Church and all religious leaders should take the forefront in providing direction for all people, by teaching the youth on the need to abstain from pre-marital sex and all forms of self-indulgence at all times, but particularly on this day.
On Valentine days, Christian couples must celebrate the day in a manner that befits their status as married people. This can be in the form of renewal of vows, emphasising and reassuring the love they have for each other.
Young people in courtship and the youth in general can be brought together in a 'Christian way' through games, entertainment and talk shows on Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
The giving of Valentine cards, tokens, and flowers can be encouraged in a Christian to make it really an expression of filial love devoid of any amoral overtones.
Parents can express their love for their children and children their parents. Friends, relatives and loved ones should do same while society must show love and compassion to the poor, the lonely, the dejected and the unloved by way of visits and giving of gifts.
It should be a day when all people are made to feel that they are loved and cherished by God and neighbours.
It is important to state that St. Valentine died for love of Christ and humanity. This being the case then, his association with immorality and sexual profligacy is unfortunate, to say the least.
Yet, this association can and should bring a transformation just like the Christian feast did to pagan ones.
This can come about if Christians and all people celebrate the day in a manner that offers direction to a morally-depraved world. All Ghanaians should continue to be circumspect in their celebration on this day.
We should continue to patronize Made-in-Ghana goods as we mark National Chocolate Day today. I wish all a pleasant Valentine's Day.
By Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Abbey-Quaye
The writer is the Assistant Secretary General of the National Catholic Secretariat, Accra.