Sad St. Valentine Irony

Most of the story of St. Valentine is legend. While likely not having much historical merit, it is not surprising that lore rose up to connect St. Valentine to romantic notions that accompany February 14. There are actually multiple martyrs from the early church with the name Valentine and what is fact and what is fiction was blurred long ago.

I am, however, interested in the legend of St. Valentine, because in it lies the sad irony of this day. The legend says that the Roman Empire outlawed marriages. This was done so that young men would be free to join the Imperial army without the connection of marriage and family; it was meant to make them better soldiers. St. Valentine is said to have defied this law and secretly performed wedding ceremonies for young couples. For his defiance, St. Valentine was arrested, jailed and eventually martyred.

A man who stood against the Empire; yet our celebrations on his behalf reflect nothing of the sort and fly directly in the face of that notion. I have written multiple times about chocolate and how the desire to continually increase profits by our large corporations in particular continues to impoverish the farmers of certain crops in the majority world.  This is true of cocoa farmer’s whose poverty has led to a huge amount of human trafficking in the cocoa industry, particularly child slaves in Cote D’Ivoire (from where we get almost half of our cocoa). We celebrate Valentine’s Day with a HUGE amount of chocolate sales (not to mention Halloween, Easter, Christmas…) and directly support an oppressive Empire to celebrate a man who, according to legend, stood in direct opposition to it.

This is not that surprising. St. Patrick spent time as a slave before escaping, only to return, forgive and spend his time among the very people who enslaved him, trying to teach them something about love. St. Nicolas spent his time giving of his family’s wealth to those in need. How do we honour these one’s who’s very lives defied the violence and greed of our culture? While I don’t mind spending time with friends at a pub for St. Patty’s, the excessive drinking often leads to violence.  I don’t think I have to say too much about the greed of the Christmas season. We spread violence on the day that honours one who stood for forgiveness and greed on the day the honours the one who stood against it. Our attempts to honour these Saints defile the very actions that made us recognize these men as worthy of honour.

Valentine’s Day however, does not stop at chocolate alone. It upholds a cultural and societal ideal which is overemphasized and marginalizes many; the idea that you must have romantic love in your life. For those of you who have spent any time interacting with this blog you will know that my definition of love has nothing to do with romance. Love is a choice, a commitment, rooted specifically in how we treat someone. The way we treat someone is about honour, respect, dignity, and that applies across the board from family to friends to strangers. Romance is nice, but it’s not love, neither is sex. Yet, our current idea of romantic love has more to do with just having someone to have sex with, a very weak replacement for the desire to be loved. I heard on the radio that upwards of 60% of women will wear ‘special’ underwear today; I guess that just about says it all.

It is tough for someone who is married to try and say that romance is overemphasized. “Easy for you to say,” might respond the people who are single and really wanting romance in their life. However, I declare boldly that if I had to choose between having sex with no love for the rest of my life or love with no sex, I would not hesitate for a moment to choose the latter. Again, easy to say when I am not confronted with that choice.

It is love that we need; actual human connection that we crave. It is in our DNA to long for community and a place of belonging.  The game that many of us engage in that leads us from romantic relationship to romantic relationship, perhaps from bed to bed to bed is a game that is rooted in our desire to be loved. However, we won’t find love there. We may find a temporary closeness, pseudo-vulnerability and the fleeting release of passion and desire.  However, it will not fill that hole.

What I am also trying to say is that for all the single folks out there; don’t be discouraged! There is fullness of human connection available to you and it is called friendship. Friendship is more powerful than romance, it has the capacity for building communities that are welcoming, inclusive and non-judgemental that can help a person discover the beauty, worth and dignity that exists in infinite supply in each one of us. You do not have to miss out on love just because you don’t have romance or sex. You might not be able to hear that from me, but Mother Teresa spoke of love all the time, one of the most respected authorities on the matter in the last century, and she never experienced romance, as far as we know.

If on a day where we think about love the thing that comes to mind is wearing special underwear, we have dishonoured St. Valentine. We prove on days like these that we do not oppose our Empire in the least, but participate fully in it, both in action and philosophy.

Throughout millennia this sad fact remains; we celebrate the Saints and Legends of yesterday but do not appreciate their message even today. They were not respected then, they would not be respected today. St. Valentine, St. Patrick, Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. are mostly respected… at least… their memory is respected. But what they stood for, the way they defied Empires and norms; we would be as uncomfortable with them today as people were then. We celebrate the prophets of the past while we continue to martyr/reject/ignore those with similar messages today.

If you want to honour St. Valentine today, don’t go on a date, defy an Empire!

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