These pledges create the woven fabric of human intimacy that fortify our lives, giant robes we wrap around ourselves to keep our bare bodies from solitude’s cold night. The vows husbands make to wives and wives to husbands; of lover to beloved; the promises of parents to children and vice versa; our obligation to see friends through thick and thin, all create duties for us – the beautiful bonds of love, family and friendship, those heavy burdens we happily bear.
The paradox is that only free men and women can choose to bind themselves in a state that is very much like joyous captivity, and we do this by means of a vow. All this is represented by Valentine’s Day: the celebration of keeping our promises.
So let cynics say Valentine's Day was invented by greeting card companies to boost profits. Who cares how many people get rich selling Valentine gifts to us romantic fools? And if the rest of the world sneers at Valentine’s Day as silly and old-fashioned, that’s okay too.
I like it anyway.
Skeptics should note that Valentine’s Day predates the invention of greeting cards. This is the feast day of St. Valentine, an early Christian martyr and now, appropriately, the patron saint of engaged couples and anyone wishing to marry. According to Butler’s Lives of the Saints, Valentine was a Catholic priest jailed for assisting martyrs during the Roman emperor Claudius II’s persecution of Christians.
Legend has it that Valentine wrote notes to children who gathered outside his cell, telling them he loved them. Still preaching the faith, Valentine was soon sentenced to die. Before he was beheaded, though, he sent a farewell message to his jailer’s daughter – whose sight he had restored – signing it, “From your Valentine.”
And thus a great tradition was born.
Valentine’s Day gives the opportunity to celebrate the romantic that lies within us, rejoicing in the wealth of our hearts. Giving flowers, cards, and candy are simply the physical expression of a sentiment, an appreciation of what another means to us, a reflection in miniature of the divine love so freely given us.
Valentine's Day isn't just for lovers, though. It's also a day for showing affection for mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and other important people in our lives. It’s a way of saying, “I’m keeping my promise to you, and always will.”
The whole idea of Valentine’s Day – showing someone special your love and affection, acknowledging an enduring commitment to others, expressing deep feelings of fondness and gratitude – is lacking from much of modern life. For all our labor-saving conveniences, we rarely seem able to pause long enough to recognize what’s really most important in our lives – other people. In a strange way, technological advancements like television, videos, and computers serve to isolate us in our own little worlds; reducing, not increasing, direct communication with others.
Occasions like this obligate us to interrupt our routine and recognize the complex web of human interaction that feed and sustain us, the way veins and capillaries nourish the human heart. Failing to acknowledge the joy we receive from others isn't just a minor oversight; it's an act of great ingratitude.
For it is love and affection for others that makes civilized life possible. Romantic love creates families, family love creates affection, and affection for fellow men and women sustains civilization. Remove any of these and life becomes cold and barren.
As Chesterton observed, if civilized life relied on contracts for sustenance, it would immediately come crashing down. Instead, its survival rests on something infinitely stronger: a promise.
So Valentine’s Day is the chance to reaffirm your vows to others by giving flowers to someone special, buying a card for a person you’re thinking of, hoisting a glass of champagne in affection for a loved one. Whoever they are, they’re worth it.
(For ways to strengthen your spiritual power click here.)