Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day
They’re calling it a “conflict” for Catholics, leaving many wondering what to do.
I’m referring to the fact that Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day both occur on the same time this year, and that’s this Wednesday.
What’s a Catholic to do, many wonder. Both are significant days in our Catholic calendar. The conflict comes because Ash Wednesday is a somber day of prayer and penance – – no meat, light meals, no snacking between meals – – and St. Valentine’s Day is a festive occasion – – chocolates, going out, and usually a nice meal with drinks.
The answer is that Ash Wednesday has precedence, and the coincidence of St. Valentine’s Day would not lift for us the duty of fasting and self-denial.
Yet a more positive way to look at it is that both days center on the heart.
The very symbol of St. Valentine’s Day is the heart, the icon of love, especially the romantic love between a man and a woman. We’ll send greetings and boxes of sweets that are both heart-shaped.
Ash Wednesday, the first of forty days of prayer, penance, and charity we call Lent, leading us to Holy Week and Easter, is also about the heart: a heart called sacred, wounded by unreturned love, broken by callousness and selfishness: the heart of Jesus.
This heart is on fire with love for us, but surrounded by a crown of thorns. It will be pierced by a spear on that Friday weirdly termed “good” on a hill called Calvary, a heart beating in the broken body of a man on a cross.
It is the love of this heart from which all true love flows. It is this Sacred Heart we trust this Wednesday; it is this Heart we turn to through our repentance and acts of sacrifice and atonement this Wednesday.
St. Valentine willingly bows to this Sacred Heart, for which even he lovingly gave his life eighteen centuries ago.