The popular devotion to St. Valentine as a day to celebrate romantic love did not come about until around a 1000 years after his death. Much of his life is lost to us. The popular legend is that St. Valentine was was martyred in part because he married Christian couples in defiance of the Roman Emperor. The historicity of this is not the purpose of this article.
The idea of being a Valentine is a wonderful and noble thing.
If we model our Valentine after this image of St. Valentine.
In our secular society, we think of being a Valentine as simply being someone who declares their romantic love for someone. This is a very human impulse and one that has kept the population of the world replenished and growing since the dawn of humanity. Sometimes there is an impulse among Christians to downplay or dismiss romantic love. But this is a mistake. It is true that there are high loves, but we are naturally inclined to seek this kind of love. It would be a wrong to suppress this desire in our nature. There are those who are called to celibacy, but ideally, that is not a suppression of nature, but a an embrace of a higher love. Even in this case, we are not destroying nature. Rather, grace is perfecting nature.
And to really be a Valentine is to have grace perfect the nature of romantic love. Anyone can profess their romantic feelings for someone. Perhaps many of us have cringeworthy memories of high school crushes and embarrassing declarations of devotion. To feel romantic feelings is human, but it is not praiseworthy. To feel something has no moral weight.
What makes a real, Christian Valentine is not only the presence of romantic love, but something more. Romantic love involves a strong desire for union, even to the point of being possessive. The purest form of this is found in the unitive nature of this love, where the husband and wife donate themselves to each other, even with the sharing of their bodies. This is natural and good, but we must remember that man is not only made for a natural end, but a supernatural end as well.
A real Valentine not only expresses this unitive desire, but seeks the greater good of the beloved. When you are “in love,” all you want is to be with the other person. CS Lewis once wrote that this desire is so strong that even if you knew the love would end in tragedy, you would still want it. “Let our hearts break, so long as they break together.” This may be one of the reasons we have such strong popular devotions to romantic tragedies like Romeo and Juliet.
But Christian romance not only looks inward at this unitive desire, but upwards towards God. I love my wife with all of my heart. The worst part of my day is the morning when I have to part from her. By God’s grace, even after more than 20 years of marriage, we still miss each other constantly when absent. However, I think one of the reasons that the romantic well has not run dry is because we have tried very hard to place God at the center of our marriage.
What this means is that my first goal as a husband is not to a unitive or possessive desire for my wife. Rather, my first goal is to make sure she has her greatest good. And her greatest good is the salvation of her soul.
Admittedly, I fail often in my task. Too many times I am a cause of stress, strain, and grief. Nevertheless, I want her to grow closer to God so that one day she will be with Him forever in heaven. If I draw her away from the Lord only bring her closer to me, then I am being selfish. I am putting my personal desires for her affections ahead of her salvation.
To be fair, she is a much better example of this truly Christian romantic love than I am for her. In all of our years together, we have never had a fight. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have serious disagreements and intense conversations. And I take no personal credit for the absence of malice in our relationship. The thing is, I know she always acts with the main goal of making my life better and bringing me closer to the Lord. I don’t know how I could ever possibly be angry with someone who puts me and my happiness at the center of her life. I try and do the same for her.
When we do this, all of the natural affections we have for each other are baptized by God’s grace and all feels fresh and new.
So today on this St. Valentine’s Day, be a real Valentine to those you love.
Copyright 2022, WL Grayson
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