Why is St. Valentine the patron saint of those in love?

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By Msgr. Jorge de los Santos

St. Valentine, the patron saint of love, was born in modern-day Italy around 175 AD. He was ordained a priest and later a bishop. Famous for his evangelization efforts, miracles and healings, he lived in Roma during the 3rd century under the emperor Claudius III, who prohibited the celebration of matrimony among young people because he believed that “single men without families were better soldiers, since they are not attached to anyone.”

St. Valentine did not comply with the decree of the emperor and challenged him by marrying young couples in secret. When the emperor found out, he sent for Valentine to be incarcerated. The bishop was tortured and then decapitated in 270 AD.

The popular belief is that this is a recent feast day, but it actually dates back to the third century. However, it gained great popularity after the 14th century, taking also the name of “the Day of Love” or “the Day of Love and Friendship” in other regions.

Of course, the feast has been manipulated by marketing. It has become custom that the couple in love, whether they are boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife or simply friends, should express their love with a date or a present — and the bigger and more expensive, the better.

But St. Valentine’s Day can be a beautiful feast for us Catholics, since it presents the opportunity to celebrate the truth about love. Jesus left us a new commandment: “That you love one another; even as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34). This means that the point of reference that teaches us how to love is not how I love but how Jesus loves me. He even said it to his disciples as a requisite: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35). The basis of our faith is in love, for “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).

As human beings, we all desire to love and to be loved. From the baby who sleeps in his mother’s arms to the elderly man who impatiently awaits a visit from his children and family, we all have an innate necessity to know that we are important, valuable and loved by someone else. Our hearts long for love, whether we know it or not. God created us with a thirst and urge to be loved so that we could search for him, who is the only fount of love.

He is essential, for he constitutes the beginning, the middle and the end for which man was created. Love will be man’s activity for all eternity. Love is the only reason that justifies the existence of each and every one of us. The entire universe was created out of love. The human act by which a person chooses and does the good for another is the supreme act of liberty. And the greatest proof of love was given to us by Jesus Christ. He gave himself up entirely and poured out his blood for us.

This is what Bishop Valentine, as a saint of the Catholic Church, inspires us to live out today in our lives.

COMING UP: Five Hispanic-American saints perhaps you didn’t know

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The American continent has had its share of saints in the last five centuries. People will find St. Juan Diego, St. Rose of Lima or St. Martin de Porres among the saints who enjoy greater popular devotion. Yet September, named Hispanic Heritage Month, invites a deeper reflection on the lives of lesser-known saints who have deeply impacted different Latin-American countries through their Catholic faith and work, and whose example has the power to impact people anywhere around the world. Here are just a few perhaps you didn’t know.

St. Toribio de Mogrovejo
1538-1606
Peru

Born in Valladolid, Spain, Toribio was a pious young man and an outstanding law student. As a professor, his great reputation reached the ears of King Philip II, who eventually nominated him for the vacant Archdiocese of Lima, Peru, even though Toribio was not even a priest. The Pope accepted the king’s request despite the future saint’s protests. So, before the formal announcement, he was ordained a priest, and a few months later, a bishop. He walked across his archdiocese evangelizing the natives and is said to have baptized nearly half a million people, including St. Rose of Lima and St. Martin de Porres. He learned the local dialects, produced a trilingual catechism, fought for the rights of the natives, and made evangelization a major theme of his episcopacy. Moreover, he worked devotedly for an archdiocesan reform after realizing that diocesan priests were involved in impurities and scandals. He predicted the date and hour of his death and is buried in the cathedral of Lima, Peru.

St. Mariana of Jesus Paredes
1618-1645
Ecuador

St. Mariana was born in Quito, modern-day Ecuador, and not only became the country’s first saint, but was also declared a national heroine by the Republic of Ecuador. As a little girl, Mariana showed a profound love for God and practiced long hours of prayer and mortification. She tried joining a religious order on two occasions, but various circumstances would not permit it. This led Mariana to realize that God was calling her to holiness in the world. She built a room next to her sister’s house and devoted herself to prayer and penance, living miraculously only off the Eucharist. She was known to possess the gifts of counsel and prophecy. In 1645, earthquakes and epidemics broke out in Quito, and she offered her life and sufferings for their end. They stopped after she made her offering. On the day of her death, a lily is said to have bloomed from the blood that was drawn out and poured in a flowerpot, earning her the title of “The Lily of Quito.”

St. Theresa of Los Andes
1900-1920
Chile

St. Theresa of Jesus of Los Andes was Chile’s first saint and the first Discalced Carmelite to be canonized outside of Europe. Born as Juana, the future saint was known to struggle with her temperament as a child. She was proud, selfish and stubborn. She became deeply attracted to God at the age six, and her extraordinary intelligence allowed her to understand the seriousness of receiving First Communion. Juana changed her life and became a completely different person by the age of 10, practicing mortification and deep prayer. At age 14, she decided to become a Discalced Carmelite and received the name of Theresa of Jesus. Deeply in love with Christ, the young and humble religious told her confessor that Jesus told her she would die soon, something she accepted with joy and faith. Shortly thereafter, Theresa contracted typhus and died at the age of 19. Although she was 6 months short of finishing her novitiate, she was able to profess vows “in danger of death.” Around 100,000 pilgrims visit her shrine in Los Andes annually.

St. Laura Montoya
1874-1949
Colombia

After Laura’s father died in war when she was only a child, she was forced to live with different family members in a state of poverty. This reality kept her from receiving formal education during her childhood. What no one expected is that one day she would become Colombia’s first saint. Her aunt enrolled her in a school at the age of 16, so she would become a teacher and make a living for herself. She learned quickly and became a great writer, educator and leader. She was a pious woman and wished to devote herself to the evangelization of the natives. As she prepared to write Pope Pius X for help, she received the pope’s new Encyclical Lacrymabili Statu, on the deplorable condition of Indians in America. Laura saw it as a confirmation from God and founded the Missionaries of the Immaculate Heart and St. Catherine of Siena, working for the evangelization of natives and fighting or their behalf to be seen as children of God.

St. Manuel Morales
1898-1926
Mexico

Manuel was a layman and one of many martyrs from Mexico’s Cristero War in the 1920s. He joined the seminary as a teen but had to abandon this dream in order to support his family financially. He became a baker, married and had three children. This change, however, did not prevent him from bearing witness to the faith publicly. He became the president of the National League for the Defense of Religious Liberty, which was being threatened by the administration of President Plutarco Elías Calles. Morales and two other leaders from the organization were taken prisoners as they discussed how to free a friend priest from imprisonment through legal means. They were beaten, tortured and then killed for not renouncing to their faith. Before the firing squad, the priest begged the soldiers to forgive Morales because he had a family. Morales responded, “I am dying for God, and God will take care of my children.” His last words were, “Long live Christ the King and Our Lady of Guadalupe!”