This year, Lent and Easter dates are a bit more notable than usual. Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day and Easter falls on April Fool’s Day. Not quite the holiday pairings you would expect, are they?
While it would be difficult to find a day more different from Easter than April Fool’s Day, Valentine’s Day isn’t quite the mismatch with Lent that you might think.
The Truth About Saint Valentine
The truth about St. Valentine is that there’s actually a lot of confusion when it comes to the patron saint of love. In fact, the stories we associate with St. Valentine might actually stem from two different men.
There are several stories attributed to St. Valentine but it’s difficult to say which ones are true. However, one common story about St. Valentine is that he was sentenced to death by the Roman emperor Claudius Gothicus for marrying Christian couples during a time of Christian persecution. There are other legends associated with the saint, including restoring the vision of a blind child and a different account of his martyrdom, but it is generally agreed upon that he was a martyr.
And in case you were curious, St. Valentine is the patron saint of affianced couples, beekeepers, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, plague, travellers, and young people.
St. Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday
As with most holidays, there’s a difference between the religious significance and the cultural significance of St. Valentine’s Day. Culturally, it’s a day to celebrate romantic love. Religiously, it’s a day to commemorate St. Valentine.
However, it’s interesting to note that in the 1960s, the Catholic Church removed the liturgical feast from the general church calendar because of the confusion associated with the saint and the fact that there were likely two Valentine’s (but some churches do celebrate it locally).
This Valentine’s Day, the focus of course will be on Ash Wednesday. Most branches of Christianity will hold masses, and celebrants of certain religions, like Catholicism, will have ashes placed on their foreheads as a sign of penance. For many, it’s a day of fasting and prayer. It’s the beginning of Lent, a time of reflection, almsgiving, metanoia, and prayer.
Love and Lent
While the religious focus of February 14 will be on Ash Wednesday, not St. Valentine’s Day, it’s still easy to see a link between the holiday of love and the season of Lent.
During Lent, we’re asked to renew our baptismal promises, repent of our sins, and take a deeper look at our faith. In keeping with that, many people choose to examine ways in which they’ve fallen short, whether in their spiritual, personal, or even professional life.
That’s also what makes Lent a good time to reflect on love. After all, as Pope Francis said, “the forgiveness of God is a sign of his overwhelming love for each of us.” God’s love is a tremendous part of the spiritual lives of many. It’s what draws people to religion, brings them comfort in sorrowful times, and joy in happy times.
The reason love is a core tenet of so many faiths is because it has deep roots in the bible. For example, in Matthew 22:34-40, when asked what the most important “commandment in the law” was the greatest, Jesus replied “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
This Lent, as you reflect on different aspects of your faith, don’t forget to take love into account.
This week, there are several things you can reflect on to start your Lenten journey. If you’d like, you can reflect on the following questions to help you dive deeper into love and Lent.
- In what ways do you “love your neighbor”? What gifts do you have that could help those around you?
- How does love play a role in your spirituality? In your personal life?
- Ashes are a sign of mourning. During this Ash Wednesday week, remember those who have recently suffered a loss and keep them in your thoughts and prayers.
- The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops offers up this bible passage for reflection: “By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread, Until you return to the ground, from which you were taken; For you are dust, and to dust you shall return." (Gn 3:19). What are some of the things you’ve had to sweat and work for in your life? How did it feel when you achieved your goal?
Would You Like to Take The Esquiline’s Lenten Challenge?
This year we’re inviting everyone to participate in our Lenten Challenge. If you’re not already taking it, you can join at any time by downloading the challenge and following along as we make our way through this special season.