It’s Valentine’s Day, which means all the drugstores are festooned in red and pink; the secular advice columns are out in force; and the really, really bad movies jockey for position on screens around the world.
Secular Valentine’s day is overly indulgent and kind of weird. This article, on the contrary, is about how to be a hero in the mold of St. Valentine, who defended marriage unto his death. It’s hard, but so is achieving the Kingdom of Heaven. May we all jump at the chance to fight for what God has joined together, even if it means the loss of our heads.
The St. Valentine story best known to Catholics goes like this:
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 marriages for young lovers in secret.
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.
There are two points worth teasing out here.
1. St. Valentine defied the reigning culture in defense of marriage.
I’m here not to spit on flowers and chocolates. Spouses showing appreciation for each other will never go out of style and should be encouraged. But I do want to emphasize the word spouses. St. Valentine cared about those betrothed — not those “hanging out,” not those going on a few dates just for the heck of it, and most definitely not those “Netflixing and chilling” or shacked up or pretending to be married.
It’s important for boyfriends and girlfriends to have marriage in their minds. Guys should put out of their minds any fear of “baby rabies,” and girls need to stop pretending they can spend the rest of their lives choosing and choosing to find the perfect man. The point of dating is to get married soon and have lots of children.
When people know why they’re dating, they can get more virtuous about it. Chastity becomes a little easier when each lover understands that his beloved is a person to be preserved in purity, not a vehicle for personal satisfaction. The culture wants men and women to see each other as disposable, both before marriage and after, but the reality is that even from date one, you’re making an investment in the person sitting across the table. This isn’t to say everyone needs to plan the wedding on date one — just to take dating seriously, chiefly by remembering what the point is.
People who aren’t married or dating, especially priests and religious, will greatly benefit those who are by praying for them. Priests can bolster marriages through quality marriage prep, which is desperately needed. When marriages are on the rocks, the unmarried can help fight for them by taking to heart that in the vast majority of cases, spouses should stay together, and reflecting that mentality in word and deed.
2. St. Valentine had his head chopped off in defense of marriage.
For Catholics, this is not just a matter of buying flowers or taking your wife out on a date or praying for married couples. Marriage is serious stuff — the beating heart that sustains the physical body of both the laity and the clergy — and it requires serious treatment to preserve.
Catholics have to understand that marriage is tied up with sex, therefore to compromise on sex is to wound marriage. We must unflinchingly condemn the vicious, God-usurping evil of “artificial reproduction” techniques like in vitro fertilization; the soul-destroying scourge of state-sponsored and enforced sodomy; and contraception, the opening through which industrial-scale child murder enters.
And then there’s the really hard stuff: the conduct of our friends and loved ones. Just as we sing to high Heaven with gratitude for a beautiful wedding or a repentant sinner coming back to the fold and recommitting himself to his wedding vows, we must not compromise when those we love do evil.
When your Catholic relative tells you he’s getting “married” on a mountaintop, it’s your duty not to attend — not the fake wedding, not the reception — because this occasion is not a wedding, but rather a huge party celebrating fornication, estrangement from God, and a perilous future for any children to be born from that unfortunate arrangement. Unless you plan to wear a sandwich board sign proclaiming your opposition and harangue everyone there, your attendance signals your support. As a good Catholic partaking of the food and wine, your presence will be especially scandalous to all the other guests. “If he’s okay with it, I can be, too.”
If you’re really feeling the Christian fervor of St. Valentine, you’ll tell the fake bride and fake groom why you refuse to have anything to do with their party. You don’t need to fulminate or point a condemning finger. Remember that the couple fall into one of two categories: you’ll be either admonishing the sinner or (more likely) instructing the ignorant, both of which are crucial works of mercy. It requires finesse, gentleness, and compassion, and — here’s the important part — you will be pilloried for it anyway. Nasty words will fly over your radar. Family members will stop talking to you. You’ll be calumniated and reviled. People you thought would stand up for you will abandon you. All this for doing what you know, because God told you, is the right thing. It will all be in the same category as what happened to St. Valentine, and also to Christ.
It’s a tragedy of our perverse generation that so many unfortunate situations require a similar reaction from good Catholics looking to imitate St. Valentine. Your friends or relatives who’ve shacked up with their paramours. The ones who’ve been together, but not married, for decades and want you to bring your children into their homes. The friend who’s way too open about her sex life, so now you know what sort of birth control she’s on. I’m not saying you must or even should admonish every one of these people — after all, prudence is king in such matters — but you must never condone or tolerate sexual evils, especially if you have innocent children to defend. You can’t just sit and listen to it. You can’t smile and nod. We shouldn’t actively seek out martyrdom, but when these trials confront us, we sin by enabling evil so we can flee from them.
Great beauty and great suffering
St. Valentine’s story reminds all of us that marriage is more than a fuzzy feeling. It’s work — not just work for husband and wife, but corporate work, societal work. Whether you’re married or not, if you follow Christ, you have to be invested in marriage. You have to respect and revere it by how you live. The more we tolerate the modern world’s manifold sins against this sacrament, the more we dig our own graves, and the graves of our kids, too. So defend marriage as you would your own children, and be ready to suffer for it. Because you will, and all the greater glory to you when you do.