Blog Post

Love for Love: When Valentine’s Day Meets Ash Wednesday

To some, love might mean never having to say you’re sorry, but on this Valentine’s Day – which happens to fall on Ash Wednesday – millions of Catholics will be doing just that as they kick off the penitential season of Lent on the same day that they celebrate the great gift of love.

According to this blog, appearing on the website of Georgetown’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, better known as CARA, we learn that this is the first time Ash Wednesday has fallen on the same day as Valentine’s Day since 1945.

“That means it is an obligatory day of fasting (one full meal plus two smaller meals that together are not larger than the full meal) and abstinence (no meat),” the blog states. “Also, expect some non-Catholics in the restaurant to think you and your date have dirt on your heads.”

Will the bishops give us a dispensation on that day?

Probably not, the blog surmises. Even though they do give dispensations when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, Ash Wednesday is a different story. This is mostly because we don’t know nearly as much about the various St. Valentines (there are several different stories about martyrs named Valentine) as we do about St. Patrick.

However, aside from forcing us to make different menu selections on that happy day, consider how fitting it is that the same day we begin to make reparation for our sins falls on the day that we traditionally celebrate the very essence of our God – love.

After all, it was because God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, “that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting” (John 3:16).

The fact that these two events fall on the same day may actually lend some real meaning to Valentine’s Day which has become so secularized it’s hard to find anything Catholic in it at all. The day is mostly about sending flowers, chocolates, and pajama-grams, and not at all about the “no greater love” that made St. Valentine so famous.

For example, in one story, St. Valentine of Rome, who lived during the third century, was put on house arrest by a judge for offered a direct challenge to his faith in Jesus Christ. Heal his daughter of her blindness or else. St. Valentine's faith in Jesus never wavered. He put his hands over her eyes and instantly restored her vision. The astonished judge was said to have destroyed all the idols in his house, fasted for three days, and then accepted baptism along with his entire household.

Another tale of St. Valentine says he was a Roman priest living during the reign of Claudius II. Tossed in jail for marrying Christians and aiding those who were being persecuted, the emperor had a liking for him and a friendly relationship actually started to grow between them until Valentine tried to convert him to Christianity. This sent Claudius into a rage in which he condemned Valentine death by beheading if he did not renounce Christ. However, denying his Love was not an option and he died for the faith just outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 269.

There are various versions of these stories but the central theme is the same no matter which legend is being told - love for Jesus Christ.

This is why Valentine’s Day is not just about love, it’s about the Love of all Loves, a love that suffered and died in order to teach us what it means to have “no greater love.”

Yes, Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday belong together. They remind us that real love isn’t about cute little cherubs shooting arrows through hearts. It’s about the joy of giving oneself to another, even when that means sacrifice and suffering.

Just as He suffered for love of us, on this Valentine’s Day, let's put ourselves aside and suffer a little for love of Him.

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