We’ve all done it. We've unabashedly hugged and kissed our lambs (or dogs or cats or horses) on their adorable faces and felt the mutual love. It’s a different kind of love, but it’s still love because it creates a deep sense of peace, joy, belonging, and communion with another in our human hearts and souls. Maybe The Beatles were right after all. Maybe all you need is love...love!
Certainly, that seems to be the sentiment behind Valentine’s Day. Or, I should say, Saint Valentine’s Day, a word that often gets buried in chocolate and roses. St. Valentine (a real person and an Italian Bishop) was a Christian martyr who was decapitated in defense of the faith under the rule of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II on February 14th, 269 AD. Well, that’s a buzzkill on this beautiful day dedicated to love. But is it?
St. Valentine was such a lover of love (and marriage!) that it led to his imprisonment and eventual beheading. It seems he was secretly performing marriage rites for young Christian couples who desperately wished to be wed even though the Roman Emperor forbade marriage at the time. Apparently, the crusading Emperor thought unmarried soldiers fought better than married ones. St. Valentine did everything in his power to ensure that young couples were not deprived of making their sacred vows to one another in the eyes of God.
Legend has it that while he was imprisoned, the jailer’s own daughter was miraculously healed of her blindness by St. Valentine. Before his execution, the good Bishop left a note encouraging the young woman’s newfound faith, signing it affectionately, “from your Valentine.”
(As an aside, in addition to lovers, St. Valentine is also the patron saint of beekeepers. So those “sweet” gestures and cards that say “Be Mine” could read BEE MINE! and still, theoretically, be correct. 🐝 )
Jesus himself said: No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.(John 15:13) Clearly, St. Valentine’s first love was Jesus and so he laid down his life—not just for the Lord—but as a sacrificial act for the greater good of all those young couples who wished to be married in the Christian faith.
So is it really true? All you need is love? Ask any couple whose love has gone the distance and they'll tell you that love and sacrifice go hand in hand. Those who love die to themselves (in their pride, in their pettiness, etc.) a gazillion times over the course of their relationship for the good of the other. (I’m pretty sure my amazing Valentine, Shepherd Ed, has exceeded that number already.) When we love one another in Christ, we do indeed lay down our lives, day by day by day.
Oh, one more thing before I bust open the chocolate and smell the roses…those X’s we use to symbolize kisses? They have an interesting Christian significance too. An “X” was understood in medieval times to replicate the form of St. Andrew’s Cross. So when someone signed a legal document, placing an “X” beside the signature symbolized a person’s honor and trustworthiness. In fact, contracts were considered invalid without the St. Andrew’s Cross. Both signers would kiss the document near the cross to seal their agreement. Over time, the X became the symbol of a kiss. And the O’s?
Well, I’m not sure about that but I’ll go out on a limb and say that’s the shape of our arms when we wrap them around the ones we love, be it our beloved humans or the thick, woolly neck of an adorable ewe who can’t read the sign in the picture but seems to know she is loved just the same. 💗
May your St. Valentine’s Day be filled with opportunities to love and sacrifice for the good of the other—and if you can sneak in a few hugs and kisses (human and animal too), all the better!
Yours in Christ’s Love,