On Saturday, the Church celebrates the ancient feast of St. Valentine, priest of the Roman Church and martyr under the emperor Claudius in the late 3rd century A.D. The story of St. Valentine teaches us how much the Church loves marriage.
At the time of Claudius, the Church was very much persecuted. In addition, Claudius waged many wars and he found his subjects unwilling to participate in the fighting. His theory was that they were too attached to their wives and to their families in order to give their lives for Rome. Thus, he outlawed marriage.
St. Valentine was a holy priest. As a holy priest, he had a great love for the sacrament of marriage and a great desire to see young men and women united in the sacrament so as to form families under the blessing of Almighty God. Therefore, he defied the unjust law of the emperor and witnessed many Christian marriages in secret. For this and other holy “crimes,” he was eventually arrested and beheaded.
It’s important to understand exactly what happened in the death of St. Valentine. It wasn’t that same Valentine was particularly involved in promoting marriage in his ministry. Rather, his risk of life and final martyrdom is witness to the truth that the Church in general loves marriage and is its great protectress. The martyrdom of Valentine is the death of a priest who gave his life for Christian marriage. He died so that his sons and daughters could get married in the Church and live according to the Church’s teachings on marriage.
Jesus Christ also died for this grace for married couples and the witness of St. Valentine emphasizes this aspect of Our Lord’s Sacrifice. The Sacrament of Marriage conforms the couple to the Crucified Christ such that they are given the grace to love each other with His self-sacrificing Love. This Love, as Pope Blessed Paul VI taught in “Humanae Vitae,” is free, total, faithful, and fruitful.
As you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day this Saturday, understand that you are celebrating the feast of a priest who died for marriage. Understand that he died so that you could get married in the Church, so that you could remain open to life always in your marital relations, so that you could lay down your lives for each other in Love. Celebrate well this feast of the Patron Saint of Marriage. Remember that marriage has no greater friend than the Church Whose Bridegroom is the Author of Marriage.
Fr. Joseph Previtali