No one seems to know exactly who he was but the stories abound. Some early church records list a number of martyrs by the name, but whether he was one of them we cannot say for certain. Still, it’s probable that he was a leader of the early church who lived in the third century after Christ, a time when accepting the Christian faith was almost always dangerous and sometimes even deadly.
One account tells us that he was a Roman pastor who had a special feeling for young folks. When the Roman Empire needed soldiers, the Emperor Claudius II decreed that no one could become engaged, believing that married men would want to stay home more than go off and fight wars! (Smart fellow, that Claudius, wasn’t he?) The kindly priest defied the emperor’s orders, however, and began to secretly marry a number of young couples. And the consequence was predictable: he was eventually arrested, imprisoned, and later put to death for his “crime” of aiding amour.
Another legend suggests that this same priest was seized for helping Christians who were being persecuted by Claudius and that during his imprisonment, the jailor and his family were so impressed by his sincerity and even joy that they became believers themselves. The priest was especially kind to the jailor’s blind daughter and, following the leading of God, he prayed for her to receive her sight. When the miracle occurred, he is said to have sent her a farewell message signed simply with his name, “From your Valentine.”
Of course, they are all just legends. But perhaps in a time like ours when there is so much counterfeit compassion and non-sacrificial sentiments, such legends can remind us of an eternal principle about life: only love that costs you something is worth giving away to another. Or as Jesus Himself once expressed it, “greater love has no one that this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15.13)
He may never have seen a foil wrapped heart and he could little have imagined what would later be done in his name each year on a day like this one. But if the stories are true, it appears that the priest now known as St. Valentine understood those words of his master and so he tried, in turn, to show in his own life what true love is really all about.
When you open up that box of candy today, or give someone that silly card, why not take a moment to stop and remember a truth more lovely than any other: when it comes to true affection, even Hallmark can’t come close to those who are following the Lord and remembering His “new commandment,” that we love one another even as He has loved us.
Humanity is in need of love and compassion right now.