It is a pragmatic fact that the christian world and the world at large is presently approaching a sensitive season, which is the season of Lent. This season begins with the penitential act of marking ourselves with Ash as a sign of contrition and a means to return to the merciful father. However, this year is somewhat special, being that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s day. This “coincidence” has therefore resulted into plethora of debates which create further conundrums.
The confluence of the events, occurring for the first time since 1945 has created a dilemma for Roman Catholics and followers of other Christian denominations who observe Ash Wednesday. How can one simultaneously mark a solemn day when foreheads are tapped with a symbol of mortality as a call to humility and repentance, while celebrating one that glorifies the kisses and champagne of romantic love? It seems like an odd pairing; Ash Wednesday, a day of solemn repentance and honest reckoning of our brokenness, and Valentine’s Day, a lighthearted celebration of love. Do we fast and pray and commit to rigorous spiritual disciplines, or do we dive in to Champagne and chocolate? Is it a day of contrition or of abandon? Do we abstain or do we indulge? A sure Ontological mismatch some may conclude. More so, it’s strange how our culture divides up human experience and the way it puts a premium on happiness, self-fulfillment and conflict avoidance, particularly in personal relationships. The good life is untroubled. There should be no worries and certainly no cause to acknowledge pain or wrong. It’s a life of endless possibility fueled by positive thinking and affirmation. It should be perky, upbeat and fun. And somehow love needs to be shaped the same way. Certainly there is no room for Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day in the same space.
The two quotes above are the manifesto for this worldview. They hold out the promise of pain-free, investment-free, responsibility-free relationships. They encourage an unexamined life, a kind of Teflon existence to which consequences don’t stick. They sound like the real thing but are as poor a substitute as the sentiments printed on the little sugar. Valentine hearts are for a real expression of love. In this world, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day make no sense together. But here we are. This Feb. 14 will hold two holy days. And, in our life in Christ, they aren’t incompatible but inseparable. Thus, I’ll say it is a Divine providential synergy.
The basis of argument for those who claim that it is a mismatch is centred on their misconstrued meaning of Valentine’s day. It has been misunderstood to be a day replete with lustful and carnal acts, hinging upon hedonistic philosophies as basis for enjoyment. Such an odd world! Too many think only of the partying, the drinking and the gifts they might receive from fans, friends, lovers and admirers; of flowers, chocolates, jewels, cars or even trips out.
It is apposite to posit thus that there are no coincidences with Almighty God. Nothing escapes God’s attention and so there must be a useful lesson to learn in that very fact. The true spirit of Christianity is about self-giving and love. That is the message which the period of Lent cultivates in our minds and that is exactly what the Holy Saint Valentine, patron of the Valentine celebration, did with his entire life. As the popular maxim goes: “love is not love until it is shared, love is not shared until it hurts”. This is the sort of love Valentine is about and also what Lent is about. It is not out-of-place to state explicitly that it is a Divine providential synergy.
The history of salvation is one extended love story between God and God’s creation, between God and humankind, between God and God’s people. We were created in love for love. Real love. Love that is solid and deep and unflinching. Love that is true enough to be honest. God’s work of reconciliation in Christ is God’s eyes wide open acknowledgment of human rebellion and sin, the undeniable fact that all is not well no matter how hard we try to fix it or deny it. The remedy was the all-in, complete love of the incarnation, crucifixion and death of Christ. Jesus meets us right in the middle of our pain, the pain we feel and the pain we cause others, and without minimizing the depth of our offense, offers forgiveness and new life.
Hence, the message of Valentine is the message of LOVE, the message of LOVE is the message of CHRIST. For this he taught: ” a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his brother in 15:13. It is therefore no accident that Ash Wednesday falls today; the beginning of the greatest story of love ever told, lived and expressed. Christ gives to is today, a practical expression of love. Indeed, in Valentine we are called to lay down our lives in a pure and unselfish giving to God and our neighbours. Remember, love is true and pure when its SOURCE is GOD and its TERMINAL is GOD.
It is a clarion call therefore not to prioritise carnality and eroticism over what true and genuine love stands for. Let our celebration of Valentine’s day coincide with what sacrificial love stands for. It doesn’t obscure the fact that we can go out with our loved one, but it should be done with a pure heart calling to mind that true love isn’t lustful gratification. We should wear our ashes on our foreheads, wear the colours of Valentine and also carry with us the mark of humility and morality. Let us enjoy this epoch-making day.
What a Val, surely full of ash.
About the Author
Nwachukwu Precious- A Catholic Seminarian of the Oblates of St. Joseph
Contact him via email: firstname.lastname@example.org