The Feast of Love
A peculiar quirk of the calendar this year times Ash Wednesday to coincide with Valentine’s Day, and Easter with April Fool’s Day.
While Catholics will not mistake the Resurrection for an April Fool’s joke, some will likely be torn between observing the Church’s disciplines governing Ash Wednesday — the start of the penitential season of Lent—and society’s expectations of cheerful consumption on Valentine’s Day. The choice is between a day of fasting, abstinence and prayer, or one of uninhibited declarations of romance in the setting of fancy restaurants.
The choice is between a day of fasting, abstinence and prayer, or one of uninhibited declarations of romance in the setting of fancy restaurants.
The Church’s discipline is clear: most Catholics over the age of 14 are required to fast — that is, they may have one main meal and two small meals which combined are smaller than a normal meal—and to abstain from meat.
For Catholics, the obligations of Ash Wednesday must take priority over the traditions of Valentine’s Day.
On Ash Wednesday we cannot toast our romantic luck over a lavish dinner, and the Valentine’s chocolate hearts should not be consumed. Some Church leaders have suggested that Catholics transfer the feast of romance — which bears the name of a martyr and saint who was not particularly romantic — to the day before Ash Wednesday:Shrove Tuesday
Some Church leaders have suggested that Catholics transfer the feast of romance — which bears the name of a martyr and saint who was not particularly romantic—to the day before Ash Wednesday: Shrove Tuesday (or Carnival or Mardi Gras, as the day is known in many parts of the world).
That is a sensible suggestion. The two days before Ash Wednesday are supposed to be days of joy and enjoyment, a jovial time before the 40 Lenten days of sacrifice, penance and interior cleansing begin.
That call for sacrifice, penance and interior cleansing requires us to give up a luxury or comfort during Lent, and/or take up acts of mercy and charity. Indeed, this weekend many Catholics, and other Christians, will put their minds to what their Lenten sacrifice will be this year.
This is commendable, but Pope Francis sounds a warning about that, using the metaphor of suffocation to describe the risks of making Lenten sacrifices purely for their own sake.
“Lent is the time to say ‘no’ to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good,” the pope said at last year’s Ash Wednesday service.
“Lent is the time to say ‘no’ to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters.”
It is a time to remember God’s mercy, “not the time to rend our garments before evil but rather make room in our life for the good we are able to do”, the pope said.
In other words, Pope Francis is calling on us to give meaning to our sacrifices by detaching ourselves from materialism and turning our concerns to those who are suffering — materially, socially or personally — because it is in them that we find Christ. The Church has long taught that we ought to give the savings we make from our Lenten sacrifices — from giving up chocolates or smoking or alcohol or the Internet — to the poor.
The Church has long taught that we ought to give the savings we make from our Lenten sacrifices — from giving up chocolates or smoking or alcohol or the Internet — to the poor.
But the wounds of Christ are present not only in the poor.
We can find them in the oppressed, for whom we can engage ourselves.
We can find them in the stigmatised, for whom we can advocate.
We can find them in the lonely, whom we can visit.
We can find them in the unforgiven, to whom we can extend forgiveness and reconciliation if they have wronged us; and of whom we can ask forgiveness and reconciliation for where we have wronged them (for example, by withholding forgiveness). Lent is an opportunity for us to have a renewed experience of God’s love, given to us in Christ
We can find the wounds of Christ everywhere in our broken world.
Lent is an opportunity for us to have a renewed experience of God’s love, given to us in Christ — a love that each day we, in turn, must pass on to our neighbour, especially to the one who suffers most and is in need.
If Valentine’s Day is indeed the feast of love, then it seems suitable that this year it coincides with Ash Wednesday. This year, let God’s love be the focus on Valentine’s Day — and leave the romance stuff for another day.