February 14 give us the opportunity to reflect upon the life and death of the early church pastor Valentine (Valentinus in Latin). According to church tradition, Valentine was imprisoned for performing marriages, which the emperor had outlawed in order to strengthen his military forces. While in prison, Valentine famously wrote a letter to one of his pupils (the daughter of his jailor) and signed it, "From your Valentine". The emperor had offered to pardon Valentine if he would renounce his faith and worship the Roman gods. But when Valentine refused to renounce Christ, the emperor sentenced him to death. Valentine was beaten, stoned, and beheaded on Feb. 14, 270.
The story of Valentine's unwavering love for Christ points us to Jesus' own sacrificial love for us that is most clearly portrayed on the cross. In the midst of all the flowers and candy (which are all entirely appropriate), we dare not forget that love is fundamentally about dying to ourselves for the good of another. This is the love that God has shown us, and now we are called to embody His love in our relationships with others.
Among many other things, the cross reminds us that love is not a feeling. Very often, the most significant acts of love are those acts of service that are done in spite of the fact that we don't feel like it. Also, the godless culture around us has turned Valentine's Day into a celebration of sexual self-gratification, but this too is a complete perversion of love. Marital love (including, but not limited to sexual love) is doomed if your only concern is getting your appetites and desires fulfilled by someone else. This is not love, but a parasitic self-love. In a world filled with counterfeit versions of love, we are called to live with each other in such a way that points people to the selfless love of Jesus.