St. Valentine meets Ash Wednesday: The union of the heart and the cross.
This week, we are celebrating two events that are linked quite closely together, yet many say both the celebrations falling on the same day is a downer. Is this really true? Let’s dive deeper.
This year, St. Valentine's Day and Ash Wednesday fall on the same day. How can they be linked? To answer that, let’s start with looking at who St. Valentine was.
Meet St. Valentine
It is a common misconception that St Valentine’s Day is not a Catholic celebration. He is in fact a Saint of the church, but his feast day was removed from the general calendar because of lack of information about him. There were three other St. Valentine’s who are mentioned in the martyrologies under February 14 (all martyrs) – one was a priest in Rome, another was a bishop of Interamna, and the third suffered in Africa with a number of companions.
The 1st St. Valentine is well known and his story is probably what contributed to the celebration of Valentine’s Day. San Valentino was born in 175 AD in Terni, Italy, and was a doctor before he became a priest. The Roman law at the time forbade young couples to be married, and he would secretly marry these couples. He was arrested and imprisoned, with the option of being set free should he renounce his faith in Jesus Christ. He refused.
In prison, he befriended a guard whose daughter was blind. San Valentino listened to her confession, put his hands over her eyes and she was healed. Her entire family then converted to Christianity. Before his death, he sent the girl a loving note signed, “from your Valentine”. San Valentino was stoned and beaten with clubs before he was beheaded.
St. Valentine is the patron saint of happy marriages, engaged couples, beekeepers, and epilepsy. He sacrificed his life for love.
Greater love has no one than this, that a man lays down his life for his friends. - John 15:13
Such was his life, for he took the risk so that couples could be married and be signs that point to the mystery of Christ’s love for the Church.
It is a sad regression in our culture today that does not understand this part of love. Valentine’s Day is now a commodity trading event. It is said that men use love to get sex, and women use sex to get love. This devastating exchange never leaves either party truly satisfied. A quick internet search on ideas for Valentine’s Day bring about results such as, “enjoy a smash session, go to a burlesque and wrestling show, donate to a queer cause and have your astrology chart read.” Sure, there may be some wholesome ideas about how to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but it is not uncommon to read numerous articles on Valentine’s Day and sex (to be more precise, lust).
These two words have become synonymous in the 21st century, and that is a tragedy. The feast of St. Valentine, which is a celebration of love by serving others, has been usurped as a self-serving celebration.
Get your ash on
To move from this false understanding of love, let us make a U-turn and put our gaze upon Ash Wednesday. This is a day of repentance, being reminded that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we hear the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” We enter into Lent and journey to the moment where Christ dies on the cross, for you and for me. It is a sacrificial love that is beyond anything we can humanly grasp.
Because of this saving action by our God we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are tremendously loved - “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 12:1)
Ash Wednesday is a feast where we are called to experience a moment of metanoia, true repentance from our sin, from breaking our relationship with God and with others. It is a change in thinking, a decision to choose true love, a decision to claim freedom and return to Jesus. This day opens a path for us to change from users and losers into true lovers and transformers, as God created us to be.
The culture of using people for one’s own selfish gratification stems from a place of desire, thirst, and longing. We are constantly seeking, but when we do not know where to look, we often become sidetracked. The Devil is then there waiting to throw distractions at us, offering an illusion of satisfaction. One of these illusions is pornography, where we are offered the opportunity to use a person for our own gratification, where lustful pleasure is the meaning of life, and where there is no life, only death.
Yet we are not a people of sin and death. By Christ’s death on the cross, our debt was paid. We are a people of love and freedom in Christ, and this promise was paid for by His blood. We are offered the choice to receive this gift, to have his blood cover us and transform us from the inside out, to become “new creatures in Christ” (cf. 1 Cor 5:17). If we claim to be a Christian, metanoia is not just a calling, but our duty. Our decision should be to respond to this amazing love of the Bridegroom.
Now you are returning his favor; you are fulfilling your debt to him.”
- From the Catecheses by St. Cyril of Jerusalem
The heart and the cross
Our hearts are not separate from our being. God is love and we are made to be loved and to love. This is what our desires are ultimately pointing to, because genuine love is innate in us. God planted it in us and this deepest desire cannot be removed, it just gets covered over by lies.
Contrary to the what our culture says is love, love is not a fleeting feeling, but a conscious choice and a constant decision to make a sincere gift of self, despite difficult circumstances or interactions. Ultimately, love means sacrifice.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
St. Valentine lived his life as a complete sacrifice for love of neighbor and of God. He encompassed the two greatest commandments of all, love God with all your heart, soul and mind and the second is to love neighbor as you love yourself. (cf. Matt 22: 36-40) Christ perfected these commandments by his death on the cross for us.
Thus, let not the illusion of love be the center of your lives, but let the truth of what and Who love is permeate you. This lent, begin your journey toward the transformative, redeeming power of the love of Jesus – and be set free.
If you find yourself in need of transformation, we would be honored to walk this path of redemption with you. Please drop us a line at freedom-coaching.net.
I read a very clever tag line recently, but it could not be any closer to the truth.
'You can't spell Valentine without Lent.'
Happy St. Valentine’s Day and may you have a blessed Ash Wednesday!
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
- St. Augustine
Steve Pokorny is the Founder of Freedom Coaching, a one-to-one mentoring system designed to break the power of pornified images in both men & women. His book, Redeemed Vision: Setting the Blind Free from the Pornified Culture, is available from Amazon.