In the traditional Catholic liturgy, today is the Feast of St. Valentine, traditionally known as the saint of marriage and love.
In writing these words, it is hard for me not to write very personally, because I have found that both St. Valentine and his Feast Day have strangely intersected my life as a Christian in various ways.
It is a very special day for my husband Roger and myself. For it was on this Feast that we were married.
Bu strangely enough, it was also on Valentine’s Day that our relationship first began!
Then, some time after that and shortly after I was baptised, we had to hurriedly arrange our wedding – as we needed, quite unexpectedly, to shortly leave the country we were living in. The only suitable day that could be found – after my baptism but before we left – was St. Valentine’s day!
I cannot help but see Divine Providence at work here. And – who knows? – maybe even St. Valentine himself.
I will never forget our wedding day. I had hardly slept, so nervous was I. Then, before I knew it, I was walking down the aisle holding my father’s arm, almost faint with tiredness.
As my eyes met Roger’s, my tiredness vanished and I was held, even transported in our love. Gazing lovingly into each others eyes, we exchanged our vows.
And Roger and I felt changed. It was as though we experienced the Sacrament of marriage palpably, tangibly changing us. We were now united by our Lord within our commitment and love for one another. We were bonded to each other, through Him.
In some way, He was and is always sacramentally present, within our union, just as when a priest is Ordained.
This is why marriage is considered a vocation. And as such it should be embarked upon with utmost seriousness. For marriage (like ordination) is for life.
After the wedding ceremony, as Roger and I sat together, snatching a moment alone, we felt as though we were reeling in this new Sacramental partnership. We were married in Christ and we were married in law.
And it all occurred on this special Feast day.
And whilst the modern liturgy no longer celebrates the Feast of St. Valentine, it remains, as a priest once said to me, ‘very well observed’ – but, sadly, for purely secular reasons. We all see the shops filling up with Valentine’s cards and gifts, red roses and other paraphernalia
Commercialism has hijacked this Feast day. Yet, the meaning of Valentine’s Day did indeed come from the Saint, Valentinus, a Roman martyr of the third century.
Very little is known for certain about St. Valentine, but there are two traditional legends concerning him. One states that he secretly married couples as Christians. But he knew full well he was risking death, during a time when the Church was forbidden by the Roman Empire. And sure enough, he was brutally martyred for his endeavours.
The second legend seems to be an elaboration of the first. It tellss a story of the last weeks of his life.
During this time, he was presented with the jailer’s daughter, Julia, who was blind. Her father, learning of his healing powers desired that he cure her blindness.
Prescribing Julia an ointment to apply to her eyes, he encouraged her to come to visit him regularly.
This lead to the young girl being tutored by the saint and a relationship began to grow. Bright and hungry for learning, Julia was taught about God and His creation. She began to see the world through the eyes of the saint, developing a deep faith and a firm trust in her teacher.
One day, the jailor heard that Valentinus had been imprisoned and was awaiting execution. On the eve of his death, Valentinus wrote a short note to Julia, and asked the jailor to give it to his daughter.
When the young girl opened the note, she found a yellow crocus inside. Holding the flower in her hand, she began to see beautiful colours. Her eyesight had been restored.
The note itself encouraged her to keep close to God and was signed “From Your Valentine”.
The following morning, February 14th, Valentinus was martyred. According to tradition, close to his grave, Julia planted a pink-blossomed almond tree (a symbol of love and friendship).
In 1836, a reliquary said to contain the remains of St. Valentine, was sent to Dublin. It was received in solemn procession by the Archbishop and installed in the Whitefriar church. Sent by Pope Gregory XVI, it was a gift to an Irish Carmelite Priest, Father Spratt, for his famed and successful preaching to the Roman elite.
Some years ago now, Roger and I were thrilled to discover these relics at St. Valentine’s shrine in the Carmelite Church in Dublin.
There we prayed to the Saint to protect our marriage.
And there is another Valentine to whom Roger and I owe immense gratitude.
For he shares this Saint’s name and therefore this Feast day. One to whom we are forever indebted – Valentin Tomberg.
It was Valentin Tomberg’s writings – following his own conversion – that brought Roger out of the New Age to the Catholic Faith. Tomberg’s profundity and sublime insight into the Christian Mystery has greatly influenced all our work and endeavours. We will be reaping the depths of his immense work and contribution until the day we die.
So, in honour of this great Saint, Valentine and his namesake, we celebrate our marriage.
St. Valentine, pray for us.