Of Hearts and Ashes

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Here’s a heads-up for all you Catholic love-birds out there: Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th this year — and that’s also traditionally St Valentine’s Day. So the practices of these two days conflict in great ways.

Ash Wednesday: a day of fasting. Valentine’s Day: a feast of a romantic dinner.
Ash Wednesday: giving up something. Valentine’s Day: Gift of chocolate.
Ash Wednesday: no eating meat. Valentine’s Day: that dinner? Meat on the menu.

So… what are Catholic lovers to do? I was recently asked if the church was giving dispensations on Ash Wednesday so people didn’t have to keep the traditions of Ash Wednesday. The quick answer?  No. We invite people to enter a deep time of fasting, prayer and good works each Lent and it would be odd to say: “this year don’t bother because Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th.” It’s only a sacrifice if you sacrifice something.

People who are Valentines Day aficionados will need to find a creative response to this confluence of dates. Perhaps they’ll do their “Valentining” the night before as part of Mardi Gras. Perhaps they’ll use this day of love to grow together in the love of God by coming to church together and having a simple meal together. Love doesn’t have to be extravagant when people do simple things with intentional care.

I invited my parishioners to suggest some thoughts on this and here are a few responses:

  • “I think in this case Ash Wednesday wins. We are not asked much. Will have to celebrate Valentine’s Day early”
  • “Heart shaped ravioli in marinara sauce. Ash Wednesday takes precedence over Valentine’s Day in my opinion.
  • “Now, I look at this dilemma in a totally different way: I now have the perfect excuse to avoid the lavish dinner and expensive box of chocolates. ‘Sorry, dear. Not my idea. You’ll have to take it up with God. (shrug)’.”
  • “Take your favorite girl to get ashes then go have a vegetarian dinner.”
  • “I don’t see too much of an issue. Valentine’s day on a Wednesday night isn’t a typical “date night” . We’ll indulge over the weekend. In fact most restaurants are taking reservations for Saturday night February 10th.”
  • “Go to church with my family to receive ashes and spend quality time with my loved ones. I don’t think just because it’s Valentine’s Day we should just forget the traditions of Ash Wednesdays . We can eat meat any other time.
  • “There’s a definite connection, Ash Wednesday and ‘vaLENTines’ day. Which leads me to think about Love, Marriage, Commitment, Sacrifice. Seems this year’s Ash Wednesday/Valentines Day dilemma is a practice round for those looking to commit to true love. Sacrifice one Ash Wednesday while waiting for that special Valentines romantic dinner the next can be the experience of life together. ‘…for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and health…’ That’s what true love is all about.”
  • ” Sharing a simple Lenten meal with those you love most is a great way to keep the spirit of both days. As a single person with no children, I always make it a point around St. V Day to celebrate the love that I share with the significant people in my life. I send cards, and am sure to share a “love feast” with at least some of my closest family and friends. It doesn’t always happen right on the day anyway, given people’s schedules, so the exact day doesn’t matter. Just be sure to tell the people you love that you love them!”

I’ll close with this thought: Lent is not primarily about deprivation, but rather it’s about sacrificial love. Perhaps the best way to enter into the forty days is to think about how to be more loving to the significant people in our lives. We can give up nagging and a criticism; we can choose to do helping acts that show we really care about those we love; we can take time to communicate better and we can plan on coming to church each week pray with and for the ones we love.

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