Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Who was St. Valentine and what does Valentine’s Day have to do with our Catholic faith?

It’s complicated.

First of all, it was a long time ago and the stories have got muddled in the telling, but historians believe there were at least three different St. Valentines all sharing Feb. 14 for a feast day.

The first St. Valentine was a priest and physician in Rome. He, along with St. Marius and his family comforted the martyrs during the persecution of Emperor Claudius II. Eventually, St. Valentine was also arrested, condemned to death for his faith, beaten with clubs, and finally beheaded on Feb. 14, AD 270. He was buried on the Flaminian Way. In the thirteenth century, his relics were transferred to the Church of Saint Praxedes near the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where they remain today. His skull can be seen in the church of St. Mary Cosmedin in Rome.

The second St. Valentine was the Bishop of Interamna (now Terni, located about 60 miles from Rome). Under the orders of Prefect Placidus, he too was arrested, scourged, and decapitated, again suffering persecution during the time of Emperor Claudius II.

The third St. Valentine suffered martyrdom in Africa with several companions. However, nothing further is known about this saint. In all, these men, each named St. Valentine, showed heroic love for the Lord and His Church.

What does St. Valentine have to do with love and romance? During the Middle Ages it was a common belief in England and France that birds chose their mates on Feb.14, “half-way through the second month of the year.” Chaucer wrote in Old English: “For this was on Seynt Valentyne’s day, when every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Another literary example of St. Valentine’s Day romance is found in Dame Elizabeth Brews “Paston Letters” from 1477, where she writes to the suitor, John Paston, of her daughter, Margery: “And, cousin mine, upon Monday is St. Valentine’s day and every bird chooseth himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.” In turn, the daughter Margery wrote her betrothes: “Unto my right well beloved Valentine John Paston, Squyer, be this bill delivered. Right reverend and worshipful and my right well beloved Valentine, I… full heartily desiring to hear of your welfare, which I beseech Almighty God long for to preserve until His pleasure and your heart’s desire.”

So, the exchange of “valentines” is more of a secular custom and has nothing to do with the martyr St. Valentine. There is a Christian message that should be remembered. The love of our Lord, depicted beautifully in the image of His most Sacred Heart, is a sacrificial, self-less, and unconditional love. Such is the love that each Christian is called to express in his own life, for God and neighbor.

So, when you see the hearts this Valentine’s Day, remember the Sacred Heart of Jesus and thank God who is the source and destiny of all Love. Remember too the witness of the martyrs who give their lives for the faith, for Jesus said, “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:12-13). St. Valentine fulfilled this command, and may we do the same.

Your Pastor,

Fr. Longenecker