The Feast of Love

By Rev. Fr. Eva Chuma Nnamene

By last weekend, across countries, cultures, languages, and in fact, all over the world, we celebrated the feast of love: the Valentine's Day. In Nigeria, the elections that are yet to come were scheduled to hold that day. But the Boko Haram threats made the nation yield to the changing of elections dates.

Nigerians then joined the rest of the world to celebrate. Coming out from such love feast, it is anyone's bait that our hearts are burning with the fire of love. It is then appropriate that our discussion on the theological virtues shift to the crown of all virtues: love. But first, let us talk about Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day is the day of love. It used to be Saint Valentine's Day. But for whatever reason the prefix "Saint" is lost. Lost too is the Christian understanding of love that that day is supposed to promote. Thus, sensuality has come to becloud the Valentine's Day celebration.

However, some pertinent questions remain: was there ever a Saint Valentine? Was this celebration found in the liturgy of the Church in the past? Should we leave Valentine's Day to sensuality? Is there anything we can do to claim it, and make it a Christian celebration?

The old Roman Martyrologies kept record of three Saint Valentines for February 14. One was a priest of Rome. And the other was a bishop of Interamna now known as Terni. Both were claimed to have been martyrs of the second half of the Third Century, and were buried at the Flaminian Gate of Rome that now has some addendum as "Piazza del Popolo". The third Saint Valentine was said to have died in Africa with his companions.

Did any of these saints start the Valentine's Day or how did it start? There are two sources of the origin of the Valentine's Day. The first source talks about the legendary exposure of the celebration.

Legends had it that the Saint Valentine, the priest of Rome was wedding couples at a time when the Emperor Claudius II decreed that single men made better soldiers than those with wives, and therefore, the Emperor outlawed marriage of young men. The said Saint Valentine did not comply by this decree.

He risked his life and continued wedding couples contrary to the Emperor's Decree. At some point he was exposed, and was later put to death by the Emperor. And people celebrated the date of his death as St Valentine's Day.

Another source of the origin of Valentine's Day traces it to some popular custom that originated in England and France where people's conventional belief during the Middle Ages held that on the 14th February - half way through the month that birds begin to pair.

This is supported by the great book Chaucer's Parliament of Fowls where the author writes: "for this was sent on Saint Valentine's Day when every fowl comes there to choose his mate". One can imagine, from this story that there was already a St Valentine's Day. However, the two sources corroborate each other in terms choosing of life partners.

Choosing of partners has come to define the celebration of Valentine's Day as if that is all that happens on a day like that; or as if all about love is all about choosing partners. It is observable that, at the celebration, people send messages and cards inviting those they love to be their Valentines.

There are times, when such choosing of partners end up in marriages, and there are times, they end up in promiscuities. But the truth is that choosing of partners in love or partners to love is not all about love.

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