According to this retelling, Valentine was a Christian priest of pagan Rome, well known as a physician, who eventually gave his life for the faith. In this story, a jailer at the Emperor’s prison secretly comes to Valentine’s home, asking the godly doctor to heal his daughter. Valentine, unable to see the child under the night sky, brings her before his lamps, and immediately becomes aware of her blindness.
Not knowing how to proceed, he mixes some medicinals into an ointment, says a prayer, and anoints the girl’s eyes. Refusing to take payment from the jailer, he tells him to return in a week for more treatment.
For weeks this routine continued, and the jailer and his daughter became friends with this humble man. One day, expecting their visit, Valentine opened his door to loud knocking, but was surprised by the presence of Roman soldiers. They ransacked his dwelling, arrested him, and threw him into the Emperor’s prison, charged with being a Christian.
Soon news trickled through the ranks of soldiers and jailers, until it reached the ears of Valentine’s friend. The jailer ran to the cell of Valentine. They spoke briefly, but before the executioners arrived, Valentine asked for a scrap of paper and pen. Valentine scribbled a quick note, rolled up the paper, and asked the jailer to deliver the message to his daughter that evening.
The jailer took the paper, watching as Valentine was led by guards to be martyred for being a Christian.
That evening, the little girl heard her father return home. His gait was slower than normal, and she suspected bad news. He retold the arrest of their physician friend and the final note he wrote for the family. As he unrolled the paper, the daughter’s eyes were healed and she saw the words, “From your Valentine.”
This story is at the origin of St. Valentine’s Day celebrated in the West every Feb. 14th, but it has become less a celebration of the man than a celebration of romantic love.
Romantic love is good and should be praised, but there exists a deeper love displayed by the Martyr Valentine.
At the heart of the universe is a communion of crucified love. Scripture proclaims that God is Love, but that simple expression is muddled by the various definitions of love floating around our modern life.
A treatise or essay defining this word would do little to help either. So God displays His love--the heart of His Triune Community--in full color through the person of Jesus Christ.
In Christ’s High Priestly prayer of John 17, on the threshold of His Passion, He prays: “O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was (John 17:5).”
Within hours from this prayer, Christ will set his feet on a path to be betrayed, arrested, beaten, dishonored, crucified, and buried. Through this impending sequence of events, He prays that He will reflect the character of the Father more fully than at any other time of His earthly life. At no other time during His Incarnation has His eternal glory, as seen before the creation of the world, spilled out upon the eyes of humanity.
Not the miraculous birth surrounded by angelic powers, nor the miracles, the baptism, the healings, or even the Transfiguration will reflect the Father like this coming moment.
Only when Christ has fully sacrificed His own will to the Father in behalf of all and for all, do we see the Glory of God. This is not a new event, this is the heart of the eternal God, this is the “lamb slain before the foundation of the world.”
This is how God exists within Himself--Three Persons crucifying themselves on behalf of the other.
Beyond romantic love, beyond even talk of unconditional love, is crucified love.
St. Valentine mirrored the heart of His God, by laying down his life each day for his neighbor, for those who hated him, and His God, preparing himself for the day when he would follow in the footsteps of Christ as a martyr.
It is no wonder the Church has always upheld her martyrs because they put on display the love of God in all its fullness. As we approach this Valentine’s Day, I will buy a card and gift to celebrate the love of my life, and I pray that I will love with the love of my Crucified God.