A day for love
By Frances Stebbins
Maybe you never heard the legendary origin of Valentine’s Day we’ll observe Monday, Feb. 14.
I consulted my old 1939 one-volume encyclopedia, “The Volume Library,” about which I recently wrote. There I found that the day associated with lovers, hearts and flowers, dates in some respects to ancient Rome.
It seems that a man named Valentinius (the Latin form of the name) did live in the early years of Christianity in the Roman world. He was a convert to the teachings of Jesus and a zealous evangelist; his warmth of personality and sincerity of his faith made him especially effective for the pagan Romans who enjoyed the myths and legends associated with their gods and goddesses.
Bishop Valentinius angered the government authorities, and it is recorded that on February 14, 270, A.D. (C.E. to scholars who refer to “the Common Era”) he was martyred.
Nothing about love in that sad tale. My source speculated that the day that honors the Christian bishop occurs at the same time as a Roman holiday known as Lupercalia, which is where the human romance part enters the picture.
As those who followed the way of the Jewish prophet Jesus often did at this time in history, the day honoring the beloved bishop was promoted to counteract the pagan holiday with its emphasis on erotic and romantic human love.
(The Romans could glorify sexual activity in many forms. In the college library I read some by Catullus, which make that abundantly clear.)
So a loving Christian bishop gets mingled in the imperfect records of nearly 2,000 years ago with secular love. Much later yet in Medieval Europe, the stories of romance between knights and their ladies are added
And now we have Valentine cards for children to pass to friends in school as well as those costing several dollars. And delicious candies in heart-shaped boxes taste good and add calories.
Over at Fincastle United Methodist Church – from which I receive their good parish newsletter each month – the day of lovers is given a religious interpretation. Tricia Brown of the staff writes of “Seven Great Ways to Share God’s Love This Valentine’s Day.”
The idea came from United Methodist Communications.
She points out that Valentine’s Day can be a less than happy time for men and women who have lost a beloved spouse and for whom death has taken most friends and relatives. I can testify to that and, in fact, wrote of it in a February 2019 column , “Love and Loss.”
Among the suggestions for showing spiritual love to others as a gift from St. Valentine are these:
- Help the elderly connect. Younger people more skilled in the use of technological communication than those of us in the later decades of life can use it to send greetings or can help their elders learn to use it. The miserable COVID-19 pandemic has permitted some connections to old friends and the making of new ones.
- In churches that have a Sunday School class especially for older folk, younger people could take someone to lunch. It may be fun for children to make Valentines for those confined to retirement or nursing homes.
- It’s also an appropriate time to do something in appreciation for those who serve in medical or safety vocations such as rescue and fire personnel .
- Collegians or other young adults newly away from home can be remembered with a message of friendship from their fellow church members. So can anyone known to be struggling with serious illness, unemployment, recent bereavement or any number of other events that bring on anxiety.
- And finally, the suggestions include making visiting strangers feel welcome. Many people will join a congregation if they are given a sincere display of interest, but in times of so much illness and death, it is especially needed.