"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day, Chaucer, and True Love

If my sister ever read my blog she would say that the only reason I would ever say what I am about to write, is because I do not have a girlfriend...and that I need to get one. The statement would be true, but that is not why I decided to post this blog.
Valentine's day, as many of you well know, is the feast day of St. Valentine. As best I can tell, there are at least three ancient saints named Valentine and none know for sure which is to be commemorated on February 14th. All of them were holy martyrs. They dared to preach and live the gospel in a time when it was illegal to do so. They faced persecution for not bowing down to the emporer and having a steadfast faith in the promises of God. This fact should not go unnoticed this coming Sunday.

But how did Valentine's day come to be a popular day for marriages, romance, and profit for Hallmark and Russell Stover? This likely has its origin in the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, the English poet. On the occasion of a royal engagement, Chaucer wrote a poem linking the coming together of turtledoves in mid-February, with Valentine's day and the impending marriage. The following is an excerpt:

"For this was on St. Valentine's Day
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate"

Since medieval times, romantic love came to be associated with the feast of the martyrs bearing the name Valentine. However, one of the liturgical revisions of the Roman Church in the late 60's was purging the calendar of saints whose origins and lives were not a matter of record. Because so little was known of St. Valentine, including which one we actually commemorate, this feast was removed from the liturgical calendar. The only meaning left to Feb. 14th was the meaning infused in it by Chaucer. That being the case, the day's significance is now relegated to cheap poetry, over-priced restaurants, and imported flowers. Or is it?

"There is no greater love than a man would lay down his life for his friends." These words of Jesus are fulfilled by himself in his selfless death and sacrifice on the cross. However, it is an aspect of love in which all people can participate. The martyrs have given their lives, not only on behalf of Jesus, but as a testimony to the world around them. It is a gift of themselves to the Church and their friends. St. Valentine, by becoming a martyr, is indeed a tremendous example of all-consuming love. Regardless of whether it is a sanctioned feast day of the Church or not, Valentine and all the martyrs remind us of what it really means to love.

Whether you find yourself with your spouse, sweetheart, or simply by yourself this Valentine's day, know that real acts of love are possible for everyone, but especially the Christian. Sacrifice is always a component of love, therefore it is appropriate that on the feast of a martyr we as a culture celebrate the beauty of love...as long as we remember it is not simply a feeling but the action of always putting the other before the Self. Thus, it becomes apparent, that while the romantic side of Valentine's day did not exist until the days of Chaucer, the day had already been a celebration of true love.

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