Lex Cordis Caritas - The law of the heart is Love

by Bishop Thomas John Paprocki

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

In a few days, we will celebrate Valentine’s Day, or, more precisely, St. Valentine’s Day. The world around us associates Valentine’s Day with romance, as people will purchase cards, flowers, or gifts, or sit down for intimate dinners to celebrate a day dedicated to what our secular culture views as love. Of course, the color red is associated with St. Valentine’s Day, but have you ever wondered why? The reason the color red is associated with Valentine’s Day is because red is the color of martyrs. Yes, St. Valentine was a martyr. Red is the color of martyrs because martyrs are people who shed their blood in witness to their faith in Jesus Christ, and their willingness to die out of love for their Savior who died for our sins on the cross is the motivation that spurs all of us on in our faith.

There are several versions of the story of St. Valentine. Ironically, on this day when our secular culture celebrates Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic love, the prevailing consensus is that this day is named after a celibate priest! The Roman martyrology records the Feb. 14 death of a Roman priest named Valentine who died in the year 269. According to a book called Valentine’s Day by Fern G. Brown, Feb. 14 was called “Valentine’s Day” after St. Valentine, a Christian priest who lived in Rome in the third century after Christ.

At that time, Christians in the Roman Empire were persecuted and forbidden to follow the “new religion” of Christianity. The priest, Valentine, was apprehended for preaching Christianity and sent by the emperor to the prefect of Rome, who, on finding all his efforts to make Valentine renounce his faith ineffectual, commanded him to be beaten with clubs, and afterward, to be beheaded. He was executed on Feb. 14. He apparently was buried on the Flaminian Way, a Roman highway extending north from Rome to Rimini built in 220 B.C., and a basilica was built in his honor less than a century after his death. He was later proclaimed a saint.

Another story tells of a priest named Valentine who loved children and gave them flowers from his garden. He was put in prison by the emperor because he refused to pray to the Roman gods. The children missed their friend and threw him bouquets of flowers with love notes attached through the prison bars. Valentine spent a year in prison with only the most basic necessities. The jailer’s blind daughter brought him messages and food and tried to make Valentine’s life easier. The emperor was impressed with the priest’s gentleness and dignity. The emperor offered to set Valentine free if he would give up Christianity and begin to worship Roman gods. Valentine refused. He was ordered to be put to death. During the priest’s last days, he prayed that the jailer’s daughter would regain her sight, and she did! Then Valentine was beheaded.

Perhaps you never heard these stories of St. Valentine before, but if you are to truly live the life of a dedicated Catholic Christian, it is essential that you understand the life of martyrs like St. Valentine and be willing to follow their example, even sacrificing your life out of love.

One of the many consequences of the so-called sexual revolution has been the decline in the number of people getting married. In an article entitled, “The Death of Eros,” which appeared in the October 2017 issue of the journal First Things, Mark Regnerus, associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, wrote, “As recently as 2000, a majority — 55 percent — of Americans between the ages of 25 and 34 were married, compared with only 34 percent who had never been married. Since then, the two groups have swapped places. By 2014, 52 percent of Americans in that age group had never married, while only 41 percent were married.” Regnerus suggests a number of reasons why fewer people are getting married these days, but I believe one of the primary reasons is a loss of understanding about the true meaning of love, which is not so much a feeling as it is giving of oneself and sacrificing one’s own interests for the sake of another.

So rather than simply celebrating a romantic sentimentality on Feb. 14, I suggest that it would be more appropriate on St. Valentine’s Day to focus on the sacrifices that true love demands of us.

May God give us this grace. Amen.