According to the National Retail Federation's annual survey, consumers in the United States are expected to spend an average $143.56 on Valentine's Day this year. Total spending is expected to reach $19.6 billion this year, an increase from last year's $18.2 billion. All the treats, cards, flowers and affection can be traced back to a nearly forgotten saint, Valentine.
It is difficult to discover the real St. Valentine due to the inaccuracy of historical records and lack of them from the third century. At that time, the Roman Empire dominated the known world, and literacy was reserved for the elite. For centuries scholars and historians have attempted to extract the real St. Valentine. Some say that there were actually three different Valentines. One was a holy priest and physician who comforted persecuted Christians in Rome. The second was a bishop of Interamna, now called Terni, located about 60 miles from Rome, and the third went to Africa to spread the Gospel.
A common biographical thread for all three men named Valentine is that he was arrested and ultimately given the crown of martyrdom. Many historians believe that the cause of his arrest was continuing to perform secret marriages for young lovers after the emperor rendered them illegal. Apparently, young men were unwilling to join the Roman Army due to their attachment to their wives and families.
It is widely believed that while under arrest, Valentine miraculously healed a relative of one of his jailers, restoring their sight. This healing led to the conversion of some of his captors. The Roman Emperor Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel, ordered Valentine's death sentence to be carried out on Feb. 14 around the year 278. According to one legend, Valentine left a note for his jailer's daughter who had become his friend and signed it, "from your Valentine."
Another legend ties Valentine's Day to a pagan feast where the names of young women were placed in a box and drawn by men seeking a woman to court. Others have tied the popularity of Valentine's Day to the works of English author Geoffrey Chaucer who observed that birds begin to pair in the middle of the second month of the year. The English embraced the idea of pairing as spring came near and the nobility began the custom of sending notes and cards demonstrating their affection. These customs quickly spread.
In the year 496 Pope Gelasius declared that Feb. 14 be celebrated as Valentine's Day, honoring St. Valentine. Due to the scarcity of information about his life, St. Valentine was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, leaving liturgical celebration to local churches where he is of particular importance. He is still venerated as a saint, listed in the Roman Martyrology on Feb. 14.
Although St. Valentine's Day has become secular in many respects, let's remember that the real St. Valentine was someone who heroically loved and followed the Lord. He had such a great love that he laid down his life for Christ. As we celebrate love on Valentine's Day, let's celebrate St. Valentine's great love for the Lord and through his intercession grow in love for God and each other.