Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday: Conflict or Comparable?

Commentary by
CATHERINE BOMBARD

Bouquets of flowers flooded the mail room, heart shaped chocolate boxes filled the hands of students, table sits for candy grams: Valentine’s Day on campus could not go unnoticed.

Valentine’s Day, synonymous with romantic couples gifting chocolate and roses, planning expensive dates, enjoying generous meals and maybe indulging in a glass of wine or two (if age permits), is often noted as a “Hallmark Holiday.” Nonetheless, men and women of all ages tend to celebrate.

For practicing Catholics, yesterday also marked Ash Wednesday.

The beginning of the Lenten season, Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting, prayer, reflection and alms giving: practices we strive to carry throughout the forty days of Lent to commemorate the forty days Jesus spent in the desert facing temptations from the devil. As the lead up to the Triduum and Easter, during Lent we become aware of our mortality, repent our sins and strive to renew our faith.

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
THE ASHES used during this mass are the created by burning the palms from the previous Palm Sunday. They serve as a reminder of mortality.

So, fasting and repentance versus indulging and celebration? It is safe to say some may have found themselves at a crossroad. As Sharon Otterman wrote in her latest New York Times article, how can one repent and solemnly reflect when celebrating a day “that glorifies the kisses and champagne of romantic love?”

However, despite these apparent surface differences, there are indeed similarities between the two occasions. If we as practicing Catholics and Jesuit students are remembering the sacrifices Jesus made for us and striving to keep God at the center of our lives, there is no reason he cannot be at the center of Cupid’s day as well.

All relationships in our lives, from romantic to friendships to familial and so on, all require communication, appreciation, understanding and sacrifice: requirements that carry over to our relationship with God as well.

To ensure we are living a faithful life, we must communicate with God. Even when it is hard. Even when we forget to. Even when it seems he does not want to listen, or even isn’t listening at all. Similarly, just as we appreciate significant others or friends for all they do in our lives, we must be express gratitude and appreciation for what God gives us every day: opportunities, time spent with those are care about, our education, so on and so on.

Sometimes appreciation comes in the form of sacrifice. Throughout Lent, we alter our everyday habits or what we’d normally like to do, in order to recognize and appreciate the love the other Jesus had for us and to share that love with those who truly need it. And sometimes relationships need to be revitalized; we must take a step back and examine whether or not we are putting our best foot forward to maintain a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship with those around us. At the center that, we are examining whether or not we are living as God created us to. Examining and working toward these “relationship goals,” is a major part of going through these next 40 days. It involves revitalizing our relationship with God as well.

Although Valentine’s Day is usually a day for us to be more celebratory, I reminded myself that giving up this one day of indulgence and celebrations was important, because this love we experience and celebrate would not be possible without God. The love we should be celebrating is the type Jesus had for us when making all those sacrifices; that is love God wants us to share with those around us.

Instead of viewing Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday falling on the same day as an inconvenience, let it be a reminder that God wants all relationship with him at the center, not simply because he is above all, but because he wants us to love others as he has loved us; unconditionally, readily and compassionately.

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