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

Avatar

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: The Pell case: Developments down under

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

In three weeks, a panel of senior judges will hear Cardinal George Pell’s appeal of the unjust verdict rendered against him at his retrial in March, when he was convicted of “historical sexual abuse.” That conviction did not come close to meeting the criterion of guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is fundamental to criminal law in any rightly-ordered society. The prosecution offered no corroborating evidence sustaining the complainant’s charge. The defense demolished the prosecution’s case, as witness after witness testified that the alleged abuse simply could not have happened under the circumstances charged — in a busy cathedral after Mass, in a secured space.

Yet the jury, which may have ignored instructions from the trial judge as to how evidence should be construed, returned a unanimous verdict of guilty. At the cardinal’s sentencing, the trial judge never once said that he agreed with the jury’s verdict; he did say, multiple times, that he was simply doing what the law required him to do. Cardinal Pell’s appeal will be just as devastating to the prosecution’s case as was his defense at both his first trial (which ended with a hung jury, believed to have favored acquittal) and the retrial. What friends of the cardinal, friends of Australia, and friends of justice must hope is that the appellate judges will get right what the retrial jury manifestly got wrong.

That will not be easy, for the appellate judges will have been subjected to the same public and media hysteria over Cardinal Pell that was indisputably a factor in his conviction on charges demonstrated to be, literally, incredible. Those appellate judges will also know, however, that the reputation of the Australian criminal justice system is at stake in this appeal. And it may be hoped that those judges will display the courage and grit in the face of incoming fire that the rest of the Anglosphere has associated with “Australia” since the Gallipoli campaign in World War I.

In jail for two months now, the cardinal has displayed a remarkable equanimity and good cheer that can only come from a clear conscience. The Melbourne Assessment Prison allows its distinguished prisoner few visitors, beyond his legal team; but those who have gone to the prison intending to cheer up a friend have, in correspondence with me, testified to having found themselves cheered and consoled by Cardinal Pell — a man whose spiritual life was deeply influenced by the examples of Bishop John Fisher and Sir Thomas More during Henry VIII’s persecution of the Church in 16th-century England. The impact of over a half-century of reflection on those epic figures is now being displayed to Cardinal Pell’s visitors and jailers, during what he describes as his extended “retreat.”

Around the world, and in Australia itself, calmer spirits than those baying for George Pell’s blood (and behaving precisely like the deranged French bigots who cheered when the innocent Captain Alfred Dreyfus was condemned to a living death on Devil’s Island) have surfaced new oddities — to put it gently — surrounding the Pell Case.

How is it, for example, that the complainant’s description of the sexual assault he alleges Cardinal Pell committed bears a striking resemblance — to put it gently, again — to an incident of clerical sexual abuse described in Rolling Stone in 2011? How is it that edited transcripts of a post-conviction phone conversation between the cardinal and his cathedral master of ceremonies (who had testified to the sheer physical impossibility of the charges against Pell being true) got into the hands (and thence into the newspaper writing) of a reporter with a history of anti-Pell bias and polemic? What is the web of relationships among the virulently anti-Pell sectors of the Australian media, the police in the state of Victoria, and senior Australian political figures with longstanding grievances against the politically incorrect George Pell? What is the relationship between the local Get Pell gang and those with much to lose from his efforts to clean up the Vatican’s finances?

And what is the state of serious investigative journalism in Australia, when these matters are only investigated by small-circulation journals and independent researchers?

An “unsafe” verdict in Australia is one a jury could not rationally have reached. Friends of truth must hope that the appellate judges, tuning out the mob, will begin to restore safety and rationality to public life Down Under in June.

Featured image by CON CHRONIS/AFP/Getty Images