One day a week during our journey together, we will be exploring a Christian who was killed because of his or her faith in Jesus Christ. These individuals are referred to as martyrs, and there have been millions of them during the 2,000 years of Church history.
It is good for us to take time to remember them because they remind us that we are not alone, that ordinary individuals can do extraordinary things through the power of Christ, and that the way of the Christian lies under the shadow of the cross. They show us, in a unique way, the view from under the shadow. Not all of us will be martyrs, but all of us are called to give our lives completely to God to be a living sacrifice.
Some of the stories of the martyrs are known well, yet they are hardly remembered; other stories are pieced together from accounts peppered through Church history, sometimes inspiring international days of revelry. The story of Valentine is one of the latter.
While most of us associate Valentine’s Day with a chubby cherub holding a bow and arrow rather than a devout priest who defied a Roman emperor, the stories point to just such an individual. Valentine was a priest, possibly a bishop, during the third century, who was executed by Claudius II on February 14, 269. The exact reasons for his execution have been blurred through the years, but three reasons surface again and again in the stories: refusing to deny Christ, performing Christian weddings, and spreading the Gospel.
Valentine, like the rest of the martyrs, died for his devotion to God, for his conviction to the faithful ministry of the Church, and for his love for those in desperate need of hearing the Good News. These are the convictions that call to us from under the shadow of the Cross. God, the Church, the world—Valentine died for the love of each of them.
Will we have the courage to live the same love for each of them? Will we persevere? Will we consider not only the faithfulness of Valentine and the martyrs but also the faithfulness of the one who perfects our faith in us? Will we not grow weary in our love for God, our love for his Church, and our love for the World?