CHEYENNE,WY. 2/26/17 – Flowers, candy, red hearts, and romance. That’s what Valentine’s Day – celebrated this year on Tuesday, February 14th – was all about, right? Well, maybe not. The origin of this holiday for the expression of love really isn’t romantic at all – at least not in the traditional sense. Father Frank O’Gara of Whitefriar’s Street Church in Dublin, Ireland, tells the real story of the man behind the holiday – Saint Valentine.
“He was a Roman priest at a time when there was an emperor named Claudius who persecuted the church,” Father O’Gara explains. “He had an edict that prohibited marriage of young people. Claudius believed that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives and families if they died. The idea of encouraging them to marry within the Christian church was what Valentine was about. And he secretly married them because of the edict.”
Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies against the command of Emperor Claudius the second. There are legends surrounding Valentine’s actions while in prison.
“One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law at the time was a man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind. He was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became a Christian as a result.”
In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution; a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation (did the Islamics get their ideas from the early Romans?), all because of his stand for Christian marriage. Before he died he sent the girl a note and signed it “From Your Valentine.” That’s what inspired today’s romantic missives.
“What Valentine means to me as a priest,” explains Father O’Gara, “is that there comes a time where you have to lay your life on the line for what you believe. And with the power of the Holy Spirit we can do that – even to the point of death.”
Valentine’s martyrdom has not gone unnoticed by the general public. In fact, Whitefriar’s Street Church is one of three churches which claim to house the remains of Valentine. Today, many people make the pilgrimage to the church to honor the courage and memory of this Christian saint.
“Valentine has come to be known as the patron saint of lovers. Before you enter into a Christian marriage, you want some sense of God in your life – some great need of God in your life. And we know, particularly in the modern world, many people are meeting God through his son, Jesus Christ.”