byMost Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito, Bishop of Palm Beach
The time for Valentine’s Day is here. The day is associated with telling our loved ones how much we care about them. It is derived from Saint Valentine, a martyr of the third century. The historical facts concerning the life of Saint Valentine are very hard to ascertain. It is also difficult to determine how he became associated with Valentine’s Day and its many customs. The Roman Martyrology included two Saint Valentines, both martyrs, who went to their death on the same day but at the hands of different emperors. However, it is generally agreed that the two Valentines are one and the same around which different traditions have arisen.
A common but difficult legend to ascertain is that Valentine was a bishop who opposed the edict of the Emperor Claudius which forbade Christian marriage. Bishop Valentine performed these marriages in defiance of the emperor and was subsequently imprisoned. While in prison, he would correspond with those under his care through letters and notes which he would sign, “From your Valentine.” Hence, the tradition of sending notes and letters of affection on Valentine’s Day. All that is truly certain is that a Valentine was martyred on February 14 around the year 270.
However the custom developed, Valentine’s Day will be one on which people will send signs of affection and appreciation to spouses, families, and loved ones. It is a fine custom appreciated by Pope Francis as expressed in his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia (The Joy of Love): “I think of Saint Valentine’s Day; in some countries, commercial interests are quick to see the potential of this celebration than we are in the Church.” As we express our love to those close to us on Valentine’s Day, it is most fitting to express our love to the one closest to us, God Himself. After all, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:16) and Valentine’s Day is based on the fervent love of a saint who gave his life for God.
The best way to express our love for God is first to realize His love for us. God continually sends us messages of His love in obvious ways and in sublime ways. The first sign of God’s love for us is our life. We exist because God made us and poured His own existence into us. God made us because He wants us to be happy and to enter into a loving relationship with Him. God will always love us whether we return His love or not. God will never abandon us or give up on us no matter what happens. The dignity that each of us possesses comes not from any person but from God Himself. That dignity is the absolute sign of God’s love for us and something that we can never lose.
The Scriptures give us continuous messages of God’s love for us. The Old and New Testaments are truly an account of God’s love expressed in words in a concrete manner. From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, we have a letter from God expressing His love for each of us. The message of the Scriptures and of all of salvation history is well summed up in the fourth chapter of the First Letter of Saint John. These words make a very fitting reflection for Valentine’s Day and truly are a valentine from God.
Saint John tells us, “And this is love: not that we have loved God, but that He has loved us” (1 Jn 4:10). Indeed, “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). It is all God’s initiative, not our own. God loves us so much that He gave that which is closest to Him, His own Divine Son, who gave His life for us. “In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we might have life through Him” (1 Jn 4:19).
The manner in which we express our love for God is primarily by the love we show to one another. This love is not based on sentiment or emotion but on our willingness to sacrifice and give of ourselves to all as well as to those closest to us. Again, Saint John tells us, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is brought to perfection in us” (1 Jn 4:11-12). Saint John states this fundamental truth so well when he says, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love the God whom he has not seen. This is the commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 Jn 4:20-21). God loves each of us and does so at every moment of our existence. He continually sends us valentines of His love. His love is what is at the very center of our lives and that love which will envelop us completely in eternity. Loving God in return is what brings joy to our lives and that love is best expressed in the love we show to one another.
While God has sent us many messages of His love and continues to do so, we too need to send Him our imperfect valentines in return. We need to take time each day in prayer to express our love for God, even if it is only to ask Him to help us love Him more perfectly. The writings of the saints are filled with expressions of love for God. Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote many moving expressions of her love for God, showing that a relationship with God is not one-sided. She was enraptured with the love of God for her and returned that love in simple but powerful expressions, always realizing that love for God is expressed in love for others. Of many poems that she wrote, the following lines from, My Song for Today, sums up her expression of love for God:
My life is but an instant, a passing hour.
My life is but a day that escapes and flies away.
O, my God! You know that to love you on earth
I only have today! . . .
O, I love you, Jesus! My soul yearns for you.
For just one day remain my sweet support.
Come reign in my heart, give me your smile
Just for today!
As we celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, let us reflect on God’s love for us so well expressed in the fourth chapter of the First Letter of Saint John. Let us today, like Saint Therese, express our love for God for today is all we have. May that love be expressed in the God- like love we show to others.
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
February 11, 2022