Saint Valentine

When I stopped by the store on the way home tonight, I saw a dozen men lined up along the greeting card rack, trying to find a last-minute card on the way home from work that expresses how much they care for their girlfriend or wife, and I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sight. And yet, is that all this holiday is about?

Now, prior to today I knew vaguely that this day was named after a saint, but I didn’t really know why, and since the stories of Saint Patrick and others are such great testimonies of faith, I thought I’d see what Saint Valentine did to get himself his very own holiday. After all, he has been celebrated for centuries, so Hallmark couldn’t have made it up– they haven’t been around that long.

The History Channel has one version of the story, which neatly crops out the influence that Saint Valentine’s faith had on his actions. Wikipedia has another, Time has another, and websites with the backing of the Catholic Church have yet another. Truth be told, whatever happened, it happened around the year 269 or 270, so no one can know for sure. No one is even sure that Saint Valentine was just one man. But here are a couple of stories attributed to him.

 

Saint Valentine was the former Bishop of Terni, a city in southern Umbria, in what is now central Italy. While under house arrest of judge Asterius, Valentinus (the Roman pronunciation of his name) was discussing the validity of Jesus. The judge put Valentinus to the test and brought to him the judge’s adopted blind daughter. If Valentinus succeeded in restoring the girl’s sight, Asterius would do anything he asked. Valentinus laid his hands on her eyes and the child’s vision was restored. Immediately humbled, the judge asked Valentinus what he should do. Valentinus replied that all of the idols around the judge’s house should be broken, the judge should fast for three days, and then undergo baptism. The judge obeyed and as a result, freed all the Christian inmates under his authority. The judge, his family and forty others were baptized. Valentinus was later arrested again for continuing to serve Jesus and was sent to the prefect of Rome, to the emperor Claudius himself.

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families. To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform Christian marriages for young lovers in secret.

Here the stories differ, and I doubt there’s any way for us to know what’s true. One account says that when Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270.

Another account says that Claudius had in fact taken a liking to Valentine, at least until Valentinus tried to lead Claudius to Jesus, whereupon Claudius refused and condemned Valentinus to death. Commanding that Valentinus either renounce his faith or he would be beaten with clubs, and beheaded, Valentinus refused and Claudius’ command was executed outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 269.

 

After delving into the history of the holiday, it becomes clear why it was associated with love and appreciation for those in your life. In one story, the priest Valentine risked his life to continue marrying young Romans in secret, and was killed when he was discovered. What a dramatic, romantic idea! It even sounds like it could be a plot twist in a romance novel.

And yet, the second story has a deeper kind of love that Saint Valentine demonstrated, and that we can work to emulate every day of our lives– Jesus’ love, shown through us.

This ruler was named Claudius the Cruel, for crying out loud. Valentine knew cruel Claudius hated Christians, and yet he still tried to teach him about Jesus, because that is exactly what our Lord instructed him to do. Valentine acted as Jesus’ hands and feet in this world, teaching and showing His love, and spreading the Good News to everyone, including a sociopathic monarch (theocrat? not sure). I’m positive that Valentine knew exactly the consequences of his actions, and he evangelized to Claudius anyway. Because THAT’S how important it is to spread God’s love.

Just think of how many times you’ve shied away from mentioning you’re a Christian, because you didn’t want to get looks. Or you had the opportunity to share your faith with a stranger having a rough time, but you didn’t want to seem “pushy” or “preachy”. Don’t those excuses sound a bit hollow now? Here came Saint Valentine, who knew the consequences would be death if he lived his faith in that hostile kingdom, and not only did he live his faith, but he tried to convert the king! Talk about audacity. He was prepared to live and to die for his Lord.

So let’s start a new Valentine’s Day tradition next year, in keeping with the true spirit of Saint Valentine. Next Valentine’s, as you’re browsing the aisles of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, think about what would happen if you were to turn to someone standing next to you and share God’s love with them. What’s the worst that could happen? If it’s anything less than a beheading, we really don’t have any excuses, do we?

Advertisements

The Feast Day of Fanny Crosby

“Mother, if I had a choice I would still choose to remain blind… for when I die the first face I will ever see will be the face of my blessed Savior.” -Fanny Crosby, as a small child.

Frances Jane Crosby was born into a family of strong Puritan ancestry on March 24, 1820. As a baby, she had an eye infection which an incompetent doctor treated by placing hot poultices on her red and inflamed eyelids. The infection did clear up, but the result was scars that formed on her eyes, and Fanny became blind for life. A few months later, Fanny’s dad became ill and died. Mercy Crosby, widowed at 21, hired herself out as a main while Grandmother Eunice Crosby took care of little Fanny.

Fanny worked as an American Methodist rescue mission worker, poet, lyricist, and composer. During her lifetime, she was well-known throughout the United States. By the end of the 19th century, she was a household name, and one of the most prominent figures in American evangelical life.

In addition to working as an American Methodist rescue mission worker, Fanny Crosby was a poet, lyricist, composer, and probably the most prolific hymnist in history, writing over 8,000 hymns. As many as 200 different pen names were given to her works by hymn book publishers so that the public wouldn’t know she wrote so large a number of them. She produced as many as seven hymns/poems in one day. On several occasions, upon hearing an unfamiliar hymn sung, she would inquire about the author and find it to be one of her own! Fanny set a goal of winning a million people to Christ through her hymns, and whenever she wrote a hymn she prayed it would bring women and men to Christ, and kept careful records of those reported to have been saved through her hymns.

Take fifteen hymnals and stack them one on top of another. All together, that’s about the number of hymns Fanny wrote in her lifetime. Of course, many of those have been forgotten today, but a large number remain favorites of Christians all over the world, like:

I Am Thine, O Lord
Blessed Assurance
To God Be the Glory
Break Forth, O Joyful Heart
Christ the Lord is Risen Today!
God Will Take Care of You
Tell Me the Story of Jesus
We Walk By Faith

A longer list is here: http://www.1timothy4-13.com/files/hymns/crosby.html. How many do you know? What’s your favorite?

In her lifetime, Fanny Crosby was one of the best known women in the United States and a strong Christian whose legacy of faithfulness to God is exhibited by the hymns that will be sung for all eternity.

One day Fanny was visiting her friend Phoebe Knapp at her beautiful mansion. Phoebe sat at the piano and played a new melody she had just composed. “What do you think the tune says?” asked Phoebe.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine,” replied Fanny.

 

Christians in the World

Someone once asked Billy Graham “If Christianity is valid, why is there so much evil in the world?” To this the famous preacher replied, “With so much soap, why are there so many dirty people in the world? Christianity, like soap, must be personally applied if it is to make a difference in our lives.”

Earlier this week, I had a discussion with a friend about how Christians act in church, and how we act in the world, and it’s had me thinking.

I personally know many Christians who isolate themselves within a Christian bubble for their entire lives. They only have Christian friends, they listen exclusively to Christian music, they only go to see Christian movies, they read Christian books or the Bible. They’ve created for themselves a Christ-centered life, which is what it’s all about, right? Now, I truly appreciate what artists of all mediums have brought to the Christian world and I think it’s admirable and enjoyable, but in my opinion, isolation of this level within the Christian world is absolutely the opposite of what God called for us.

Picture an ember that gets separated from the fire. It would soon flicker out by itself, but if it’s then put back in a whole group of embers, they keep each other aflame. There is a direct parallel to the Christian faith in that image, and it is my usual remark when a friend says “Oh I don’t need to go to church. I’m Christian, I’m a good person, so church is really superfluous for me.”

But now, I’d like you to picture a large expanse with charcoal pieces scattered randomly throughout. There is one good-sized group of embers crackling merrily together, isolated from the rest in a corner, and amongst the pieces of charcoal all over the ground, there are the occasional few embers flickering, trying to stay lit. If those happily-burning embers in the corner were removed from their isolation and scattered throughout the whole expanse, soon the whole area would be on fire– the slowly-dying embers would have received new life, and the charcoal would soon be caught to light. Christians need the church, both the Sunday services and the church family during the week, to make sure that our little embers don’t flicker out. BUT, we have to be sure that we don’t isolate ourselves to just that group of embers and keep our flame all to ourselves.

Besides, how are we to find God’s influence and grace in the world, in the most unexpected places, if we don’t go out into the world and look for it?

In a contrast to this, many Christians are only Sunday-morning Christians, or twice-a-year Christians, and they find the idea of Christian music, or books, or movies, to be “corny” or “silly”, or somehow not worth even their consideration. They’ve gotten so far into the world that while they can occasionally put on the Christian hat, it’s nearly impossible to wear in their daily lives.

So how do we split the difference between these? I don’t have a good answer. After all, it’s not practical for hardly anyone with a normal job to seriously and actively evangelize to those they know and see on a regular basis, but meanwhile we still strive to stay in the Christian mindset between Sunday services. The embers of our faith need the community of the church, and the focus that Christian music, books, and movies can give. It’s great to relax into the familiar in that sense, but we also need to be actively part of the world, giving our faith-embers the opportunity to light someone else. It’s a difficult tightrope to walk these days.