With Love, Saint Valentine
Saint Valentine is the patron saint of engaged couples, love, lovers, young people, epilepsy, fainting, and happy marriages. The origin of Valentine’s Day is murky—and complicated by the fact that there are three martyred saints named Valentine recognized by the Catholic Church. Many scholars believe that they are the same person with varying stories of martyrdom.
The most common legend is that Saint Valentine was a priest in Rome who was thrown in prison, beaten, and beheaded around A.D. 269. He may have been punished for helping Christian martyrs escape prison—or for defying a decree from Emperor Claudius that banned marriage for young men in the army. Valentine is said to have sent messages to loved ones from prison, signing them from “Your Valentine.” Over the years, Valentine’s name became synonymous with romantic greetings of love.
The celebration of Saint Valentine may have originated with the Church substituting the celebration of this saint for the February celebration of a Roman fertility goddess. During the Middle Ages, the practice of sending valentines on February 14th became popular as English and French poets created and sent love poems in mid-February when it was believed that birds looked for mates. Symbols of Valentine’s Day include roses, birds, and a priest bearing a sword or holding a sun.
- Before sharing the story of Saint Valentine, ask children if they remember what a martyr is. Introduce the discussion of third-century Saint Valentine by recalling the story of two other third-century martyrs—Perpetua and Felicity. Ask: Why is Saint Valentine also a third-century martyr? How were Christians being persecuted in A.D. 269? (Students may recall that Christians were being thrown into prison and killed by wild animals or gladiators for sport. Valentine was beheaded, as were Perpetua and Felicity.) Show photos of the Coliseum in Rome and compare it to a football stadium. Have the students imagine the sights and sounds of the games. Remind students that although gladiators are often portrayed as heroes in the media, the reality is that they were responsible for many horrible deaths.
- Discuss the meaning of Valentine’s Day and remind students of the sacrifice made by Saint Valentine. Despite his suffering, Saint Valentine was able to send greetings of love and faith to loved ones. Compare original, heartfelt messages to the commercial valentines of today. Purchase a package of children’s valentine cards. Have children read and discuss what the messages mean. Ask: Are these words that Saint Valentine would have used to express love to his friends? Why are handmade valentines more meaningful to both the giver and the receiver? Provide white, pink, or red construction paper; markers; and scissors and have each child create an original message from the heart for his parents, grandparents, or a friend.
- Show students an illustration of Saint Valentine. (He is often depicted as a priest with a young couple.) Explain that the priest Valentine performed secret marriages in defiance of the Roman emperor. Follow up by having older children create a list of Famous Sweethearts. Or you may wish to write one name in each famous pair below on a paper heart to match to the sweetheart. (Examples: Adam and Eve, Anthony and Cleopatra, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Mickey and Minnie, Pocahontas and John Smith, Fred and Wilma, Scarlett and Rhett, Samson and Delilah, Guinevere and Arthur, Tom and Becky, Romeo and Juliet, Roxanne and Cyrano, Lucy and Ricky, Beauty and the Beast)
- Seeds children can understand who takes care of them. Preschoolers have formed bonds with their teachers and childcare providers as well as their parents. They are beginning to identify the names of family members such as aunts, uncles, and cousins and understand family relationships outside their primary family unit. They can understand that there are many different kinds of families. They can show their love for caregivers by giving valentines.
- Promise children can understand that Jesus cares for everyone and wants us to care for others. They can identify how Jesus helped the sick, the poor, and those who felt left out. They can identify saints as followers of Jesus and show how they are followers of Jesus by their actions. They are old enough to understand the concept of forgiveness. They can say “I’m sorry” without prompting. Remember that there are many ways to make amends. Adults should never force a child to say “I’m sorry.” Ask instead, “How can you make _______ feel better?” or “How can we solve this problem?”
- Good News children can understand what it feels like to be an outsider. They see how caring can bring healing and understand the meaning of compassion and reaching out.
- Venture children can understand the Catholic social teaching themes of solidarity, interdependence, and care for Creation. They have a sense that we live in a worldwide community. They will acknowledge that all humans have rights and responsibilities and that one responsibility is to care for the earth.
- Visions young people can understand that the human person is sacred, “the brightest reflection of God’s presence in the world” (U.S. Bishops, 1983). They are ready to serve as greeters in church, to help serve meals at a local shelter, or to join residents for meals at a nursing home.
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