The Raphael Remedy

When Days Collide

by | Feb 14, 2024 | Counseling

It’s a bit weird this year. Easter is super early so Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day happen to collide. I don’t know how often that occurs, but many are taken aback and wondering how to honor them both, with their contradictory purposes. Or are they really contradictory? I’ll get to that…

First, as much as we may refer to Valentine’s Day as St. Valentine’s Day, let’s face it, it is as secular a holiday as there is these days. I think of it as a Hallmark holiday to which we fall in line, buy the stuff and go to crowded restaurants because, well, you should, right?

Not to be too negative, there is nothing wrong with celebrating Valentine’s Day and letting that special someone know how much you love and appreciate them. Heck, we should actually be doing that every day, after all. But this day can put a lot of pressure on some relationships, become a premature litmus test for new ones and be a source of torture for single people not in romantic relationships. Not everyone actually finds in it a cause for celebration, hence I’ve never been a big fan.

But putting all that aside, let’s accept the premise that Valentine’s Day is an important day to show your love. How do we reconcile it with Ash Wednesday? Since it’s a holiday is it ok to not fast or abstain from meat this year?

The answer is a resounding no. The Church only has two very strict days of fast—Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. They are sacred and they are solemn. There are times where local bishops may give a dispensation and allow eating meat when St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday in Lent, but this is different. Fasting and penance requirements remain in force and, if we’re honest, we’d only have the traditional corned beef and not use the dispensation to have a hot dog or a big steak that day.

I actually love the fact that these two days coincide this year. There is an inextricable connection between love and sacrifice that the world all too often misses and even militates against. True love requires self-restraint, sacrificing our comforts, our desires and will, performing good works and being present and investing time for the good of the beloved. What more beautiful expression of love on this Valentine’s Day than to observe Ash Wednesday with reverence and joy.

Just as the Ashes we wear that day make us counter cultural, not doing all the things the world expects this day is another way we can stand up to a materialistic culture. Observing Ash Wednesday on this day can perhaps help us to focus on the real intent of our penances—to grow in love, in self-restraint, and in the mutual self-giving to which marriage calls us.

How often we hear to offer a “sacrifice of praise.” What a beautiful thing to ponder. It takes so little to offer praise to God, and yet praise can itself be a sacrifice. Why? Because the word sacrifice literally means to make sacred.

So, as we embark on this Lenten journey, think of the many things that can be made sacred. Small penances and large, praises to God, holding our tongue, offering our daily chores and work and even the big and small blessing and joys that come our way, all can be made sacred by our disposition of heart to offer them in reparation. Cultivating these spiritual muscles during this holy season, helps us to gain the self-mastery we need to truly love. Don’t trade that for the shiny objects the world puts before us this day.

Disclaimer: My cynicism above does not constitute a get out of Valentine’s Day free card. It’s still a beautiful day to make your beloved feel special. Pick another day to celebrate (and avoid the crowds!)

Wishing you a fruitful and joyful Lenten season.

Allison Ricciardi, LMHC
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