It is a little known fact that renowned Christian apologist C. S. Lewis had a bit of a Scrooge streak in him when it came to celebrating Christmas. One can see that when reading his essays, “Christmas and X-mas,” “Delinquents in the Snow,” and “What Christmas Means to Me.” In this third essay, Lewis concisely argues that the most deplorable aspect of Christmas is “the commercial racket.” The essay is quite a good read (and can be found here) not only because of Lewis’ typical wit, but also because of his spot-on criticism of a commercial industry that had practically supplanted the original, religious origins of one on the most sacred feasts in Christianity by surrounding it with packages, wrapping papers, and Christmas cards that have not the slightest connection to the birth of the Messiah. Were Lewis to witness this phenomenon as it now applies to “Valentine’s Day,” he would rise from the grave and run off on a mad Scrooge-like essay-writing spree! He might even get a book or two out of the incident.
“Valentine’s Day” is that horrible beast of a day that Christmas might become were it not for the “Keep Christ in Christmas” crowd. The ill-fated “Keep the ‘Saint’ in Saint Valentine’s Day” lobby never really made it off the ground due in part to a rather cumbersome and not nearly as catchy title and the fact that they were too busy buying chocolates, roses, and planning a date night to adequately devote the time the project needed.
The commercial industry that surrounds “Valentine’s Day” has successfully divorced the day from its historical, religious significance. You can now buy “Valentine’s Day” cards that have Scooby-Doo embossed upon them. You can find them with Spider-Man, the X-Men, or the entire Justice League of America. You can even find “Valentine’s Day” cards with the cast of The Office or Seinfeld. What you cannot find these days is a card that actually portrays an image of Saint Valentine!
Most people today, even Roman-Catholics who are typically the most knowledgeable about the lives of the saints, know virtually nothing of the martyr who leant his name to the day. It does not help the confusion that “Valentine” was a common name and there are multiple saintly men who bear that name. Most likely, the Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred during the reign of the Emperor Claudius II. The saint was apprehended and detained by the Emperor for continuing to marry Christian couples in spite of an Imperial edict forbidding marriages. At the time, marriage exempted a newlywed from the compulsory military service and the empire needed its soldiers. Valentine believed that it was God who decided who should be wed and who should not and, rightfully reasoning that the Emperor should not prevent what God had declared, defied the edict. While in prison, he formed a relationship a young girl named Lucila, the daughter of his jailer who herself had been blind since birth. Leading her to the Lord, he baptized Lucila and she miraculously received her sight. Claudius II beheaded Valentine between 269 and 275 AD.
The day only really became associated with romantic love after the Middle Ages, beginning with legendary English poet Geoffrey Chaucer. There is a line in Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules where the poet comments, “on Saint Valentine’s Day every bird chooses his mate.” [paraphrased from the Middle English] When late Victorian shopkeepers realized they could make money off the sale of “Valentine’s Day,” they did what every good business man does; they took it, and are still taking it, as far as it can possibly go! This has brought us to the hyper-commercialization of the secular holiday as we know it.
The religious element is inconvenient in today’s society. We, as a culture, prefer to keep our sex and our religion as far apart as possible. This is due in large part to the fact that Christianity proscribes a set of sexual ethics that incompatible with the sexual ethics of the larger American society. Sex before marriage is practically standard. How could one possibly think of marrying someone without having lived with them first? Promiscuity and homosexuality are standard dinner table conversation in homes all around America where decades ago those words were completely taboo, let alone commonplace.
Saint Valentine stands in stark contrast to those trends. He stands up before the Empires of Sexual Liberty and declares that marriage is a gift from God. He proclaims to a lewd and lascivious generation that marriage is so sacred that it is worth dying for. No, he is not saying your wife or husband or children are worth dying for (which they are), but the institution of marriage itself is worth dying for.
It is through marriage that we see Christ’s love for His Church pre-figured. She is the Bride and Our Lord is the long-awaited Bridegroom. What we do on Earth is a pale foreshadowing of the heavenly banquet when Our Savior comes to reclaim his beloved. Then, we will not be simply guests at the wedding feast; we will be the guest-of-honor, the Bride herself.
There is nothing ungodly about romance. Licentious promiscuity traipsing around under the guise of the “Day of All Lovers” is antithetical to True Love. It demeans what our Lord has ordained for us in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and it demeans the plan of salvation by taking the climax of all creation, the Wedding Feast of the Lord, and reducing it to rose-scented fornication in a heart-shaped candy box.
As we observe Saint Valentine’s Day, remember that today was a day where a man laid down his life to declare that it is God who calls a man and a woman to be joined together. Remember that the Lord ordained it to be such so that we might have a pale foreshadowing of how much Our Lord truly loves his Bride the Church. Remember that Marriage itself and the celebrations that go along with it are a foretaste of our true heavenly home. Saint Valentine stood against Imperial Rome long ago. May we, in love, stand against anything that devalues Holy Matrimony in our day.