I may be able to speak the languages of men and even angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt but if I have no love, this does no good. Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs; with the truth. Love never gives up; and love is eternal (1 Corinthians 13:1-4).
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Today we celebrate Valentine’s Day. A day dedicated to love matters. For us Christians, there is no particular day to show love, “every day is Valentine”. For God so loved the world so much that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life (John 3:16). The foundation of the Christian religion is Love. Before Christ departed this world, He gave his disciples a new commandment. Love one another as I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34-35). In the opening passage of this reflection, St Paul’s brings to limelight, the emptiness of our worship and devotion, when we love only with the head and leaving our hearts out of every human situation that demands our attention and love. The emptiness of preaching, healing, caring, without love. He went further to tell us what love truly is: Patience, kindness, humility, selflessness forgiveness, not giving up on another, no matter how horrible we think we may have been offended. The story of the prodigal son can be our guide here. In a moment we will examine the historical foundations of Valentine’s Day; but it suffices to hinge the entire day on the need to love beyond mere words. This is a day that has caught the attention of people across the globe. The young and the old are caught in this Valentine frenzy.
Valentine’s Day, also called Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is celebrated annually on February 14. It originated as a minor Western Christian feast day honoring one or two early Christian martyrs named Saint Valentine and, through later folk traditions, has become a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world.
There are a number of martyrdom stories associated with various Valentines connected to February 14, including an account of the imprisonment of Saint Valentine of Rome for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire in the third century. According to an early tradition, Saint Valentine restored sight to the blind daughter of his jailer. Numerous later additions to the legend have better related it to the theme of love: an 18th-century embellishment to the legend claims he wrote the jailer’s daughter a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell before his execution; another addition posits that Saint Valentine performed weddings for Christian soldiers who were forbidden to marry.
The Feast of Saint Valentine was established by Pope Gelasius I in AD 496 to be celebrated on February 14 in honour of Saint Valentine of Rome, who died on that date in AD 269. The day became associated with romantic love in the 14th and 15th centuries when notions of courtly love flourished, apparently by association with the lovebirds of early spring. In 18th-century England, it grew into an occasion in which couples expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as “valentines”). Valentine’s Day symbols that are used today include the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of the winged Cupid. Since the 19th century, handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In Italy, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”.
February 14 is celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day in various Christian denominations; it has, for example, the rank of ‘commemoration’ in the calendar of saints in the Anglican communion In addition, the feast day of Saint Valentine is also given in the calendar of saints of the Lutheran Church However, in 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feast day of Saint Valentine on February 14 was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.
It is not uncommon to see families and couples take some time out today to express their love for one another once again. It is equally very common to see young people under-taking an engagement ceremony at parks and nice hangouts. Some associations and groups will organize activities such as dinners, fanfares, nights of a thousand laugh and many other ceremonies to mark the day. While we reflect on Valentine and all the legendary love stories surrounding him, I will want to bring our minds to the most important element of love. Sacrifice. Valentine was executed because he believed in love and was willing to facilitating the union of couples even when it was difficult to do so.
Many of us in this country have given up on love. Very few people are sincere when they say I LOVE YOU. From our experiences most love stories are tied to so many unwritten conditions like wealth, good health, fame, political power, religious affiliation etc. And when these conditions are not met, one tends to withdraw his or her love. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). The idea of loving to the point of death or till it hurts; is the real spirit of Valentine. The thought of loving to the point of death can only be found in Jesus and his saints. One of which we celebrate today. For some people ‘love’ is about the momentary pleasure and satisfaction. In Jesus love is a decision. A decision to love and die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Mother Teresa once said one of her sisters who was taking care of an old woman who showed no appreciation for the services rendered her.: “When you retired for the day and knowing how unappreciative the poor woman is to you, remember that Christ have decided to love us in the same way both in our weakness and strength”
A love that is willing to sacrifice is in short supply across the country; selfishness is the greatest achievement of most individuals. Most people are not prepared to given up the slightest comfort if is not in their interest. Most Nigerians are happy to celebrate their neighbor’s failure so long as it does not have a direct bearing on them. Valentine is much more than Romance. It questions our heart of sacrifice. Some years back, the government wanted to construct a major road in a particular community in southern Kaduna, and the neighboring community said no. If the road to be constructed will not pass through their community, they will mobilize the youth of the village to forestall the project. The two communities where prepared to lose the road construction than for any side to make the sacrifice of letting the other have the road constructed. A selfish person is Narcissistic. This is personality disorder — one of several types of personality disorders — it is a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.
Fr Stephen Ojapah is a priest of the Missionary Society of St Paul. He is equally the director for Interreligious Dialogue and Ecumenism for the Catholic Diocese of Sokoto, a member of IDFP. He is also a KAICIID Fellow. (firstname.lastname@example.org)