- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Do you know the real story behind Valentine's Day? It goes way beyond hearts, cards and candy. It is a story of love, sacrifice and commitment.
In the third century, the Roman Empire was ruled by Claudius Gothicus. He was nicknamed "Claudius the Cruel" because of his harsh leadership and his tendency for getting into wars. In fact, he was in so many wars that he was having a difficult time recruiting soldiers.
Claudius believed that recruitment for the army was down because Roman men did not want to leave their loves or families behind, so he canceled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Thousands of couples saw their hopes of matrimony dashed by the single act of a tyrant.
But a simple Christian priest named Valentine came forward and stood up for love. He began to secretly marry soldiers before they went off to war, despite the emperor's orders. In 269 AD, Emperor Claudius found out about the secret ceremonies. He had Valentine thrown into prison and ordered him put to death.
As Valentine was awaiting execution, he fell in love with a blind girl, who happened to be the jailer's daughter. On the eve of his execution, with no writing instruments available, Valentine is said to have written her a sonnet in ink that he squeezed from violets. Legend has it that his words made the blind woman see again. The next day, Valentine was clubbed to death by Roman executioners.
He gave his life so that couples could be bonded together in holy matrimony. They may have killed the man, but not his spirit. Even centuries after his death, the story of Valentine's self-sacrificing commitment to love was legendary in Rome. Eventually, he was granted sainthood and the Catholic church decided to create a feast in his honor. They picked Feb. 14 because of the ancient belief that birds (particularly lovebirds and doves) began to mate on that very day.
So what are you doing to keep the love in your marriage? While gifts, candlelight dinners and sweet words are nice, the true spirit of Valentine's Day needs to last year-round.
Here are some ways to bring more love into your marriage:
* Schedule priority time together. Pull out your calendars and set a date night every week or two just to spend time together and talk. (Note: Movies don't count)
* Laugh together. When was the last time you shared a funny story and chuckled with each other? Loosen up and laugh freely. Live lightheartedly.
* Play together. Find a hobby or activity you both enjoy fishing, bowling, tennis, hiking, biking or crossword puzzles.
* Be romantic together. Send your spouse a note of encouragement in the mail every once in awhile just to say, "I love you."
However you choose to express yourself, do it in the spirit of the selfless Saint Valentine who not only took a stand for love he gave his life for it.

Mark W. Merrill is president of Family First, an independent, nonprofit research and communications organization dedicated to strengthening the family.

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