We celebrated Valentine’s Day when I was growing up. Except we called it St. Valentine’s Day. We were taught that the day began in the 3rd century with the martyrdom of St. Valentine by the Romans who tied him to a stake and shot him through with arrows. Actually, that story is somewhat apocryphal. The latest version is that Valentine was a priest who performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers serving in Emperor Claudius’ army who were forbidden to be married because Claudius believed marriage interfered with their being effective soldiers. And Valentine was probably beheaded, not shot through with arrows.
But my understanding of the meaning of Valentine’s Day was more deeply erroneous than these historical details. I was taught that love was important to living the life of a true Christian. I was even taught, as St. Paul wrote, that there is faith, hope, and love, and that the greatest of these is love.
But I was a mature adult before I discovered that “faith” is more accurately translated from the original Hebrew as “faithfulness” than as “belief.” And so I grew up being taught that this God of Love sent people to eternal damnation not only for failures to love, but in some ways more critically, for a failure to believe. Abandoning the beliefs of Catholicism was, in practice, far more damning than a failure to love.
Today, I celebrate Valentine’s Day with great joy. It is the day, 42 years ago, that the man who is now my husband and I first moved in together in a 5th-floor walk-up apartment in Manhattan.
During these years I have come to the conclusion that love is not only the “greatest of these.” In some ways, it is the only thing that matters.
Love is what makes us feel worthwhile. It is what makes it possible to forgive others. And to forgive ourselves sometimes. It is what we appreciate and often remember most in others, what makes the biggest difference to our happiness. Small acts of kindness are sometimes amazingly important.
Love is far more important than money or celebrity or good looks or creativity. It’s more important than health or intelligence or living a long life or being recognized as a great leader. I do not mean that doing a good job in many different ways is not important. But if it is not done in the context of love, I do not trust its value to humanity.
As Chris Lawrence said many years ago in his blog thinking makes it so,
“Love is hard enough. But it is also enough.”