Valentine’s Day is a big deal in America and I am not going to try to diminish that. Even though trying to trace back the roots of this tradition is a very convoluted task, at this point in time it really doesn’t matter to any one where it all started; it doesn’t matter if the real St. Valentine existed or not, or if the romancing stories around him are truth or pure fiction, people celebrate it unconditionally. Out of this mess one thing is sure: if you fail to buy chocolate and/or flowers on this day you are toast.
At the end of the day we may say, there is really nothing wrong with this; our beloved wives deserve it all. Or should I say our valentines deserve it all? Well, here the things start getting a little dicey. How does one define the term valentine? The dictionary says: a valentine is a person whom one asks to be one’s sweetheart. Well we did not get too far, now we have see about the term sweetheart. According to the same dictionary a sweetheart “is a person that one is in love with”. So here we go, a valentine is basically a person we are in love with.
Love however is a pretty broad umbrella, ranging from denoting a mere likeness up until the most powerful feelings of attraction. Let’s look at love from the Valentine’s day perspective.
Historically, Valentine’s Day, according to some sources, replaced a pagan fertility fest, the Lupercalia, a festival that today would have probably been rated for mature audiences only. The Christian Church, according to the same sources, replaced the pagan practice, as it did many times along the history, with a Christian one, trying to promote the virtues of the saints and their love for the True God as opposed to the sins of the pagan gods with their erotic escapades.
I am not sure if this fact is true or not historically, as there are a lot of made up facts about Valentine’s Day, but one thing is for sure that today we see a reversed trend, not unique to Valentine’s day, a revival of ancient pagan symbols and traditions, while the Christian ones fall into oblivion.
The type of love promoted by today’s consumerist’s Valentine’s day is by no means love in the Christian acceptance, but an overtly sensual proposal, alluding without fail to lupercalian fantasies, sent from the tip of a bow by a child-like god Cupid. How does this stand versus the apostle’s call to a husband: “Husbands, , love your wives, as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25)? One calls to pleasure, the other calls for sacrificial love. One promises a day of material indulgence the other one an eternity of grace.
For Christians love between a man and a woman is only understood in the context of marriage. Here, in the sacramental shelter of the Mystery of Crowning, love is more than just romance; it is a fulfillment of a greater purpose that raises the couple above any limitations or promises of the flesh. This purpose is not found just in the joining together through the consummation of the physical marriage but also in joining together in the things that take us closer to the spiritual realm. St. John Chrysostom always advised the couples, in his marital homilies, to pray together, to spend time glorifying God. “I would have you always pray; and if not always, at least very often; and if not very often, at least now and then, at least in the morning, at least in the evening.” (Homily XXII on Hebrews). Marital love is not just about the flesh, or about the materials things we share, it is a holistic approach to a sacred union in body and in soul, sealed through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
So what shall we do about Valentin’s Day? Go against the current and stop celebrating? Go as far as recently a Russian province did, banning the celebration all together? Or go the other way ignoring the pagan symbols and buy the chocolate? I do not have a proper answer to that.
All I know is that as Christians we live in the world that is decaying and we have the responsibility to remain what the Gospel calls “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13–16). Our deeds should match our Creed at all times. We cannot afford to loose our “saltiness” but we should continue to be agents of God’s love into the world, sacrificing ourselves for one another, as Christ did for all.