How ironic is that today we celebrate two very different days in the Church calendar? Most of the world simply knows this as February 14, Valentine’s Day. But for Christians the world over, it’s also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Many mistake Ash Wednesday for a day when Catholics “show off” their Catholicism or publicly boast that they attended Mass that day by the ashes on their forehead. But this belief misses the point of the day. I don’t display ashes as an outward sign. I wear them as an inward reminder. Best explained by Catholic.org,
Following the example of the Ninevites, who did penance in sackcloth and ashes, our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts and remind us that life passes away on Earth…Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice.
One person, known to live with a spirit of humility and sacrifice, was Saint Valentine, a third-century Roman saint whose feast day is celebrated on February 14. While not much is conclusive about this saint, legends abound about his acts and character. According to legend, and backed by some historical findings, Father Valentine was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and for helping Christians who were oppressed under Roman rule. Refusing to renounce his Christianity, Valentine was executed on February 14, 269 (though there is some debate as to the exact year). On the day of his execution, it is said that Valentine sent a note to a young girl he cured of blindness. The note was signed, “Your Valentine.” After the execution, Pope Julius I built a church near Ponte Mole, dedicated to Valentine. Ruins of that church, as well as a Roman catacomb believed to have been that of Valentine, have been unearthed by archaeologists.
While most people associate Valentine’s Day with love, happiness, cards, chocolates, and flowers, for me there’s something much more important that takes place on that day. My father never fails to give me a gift on Valentine’s Day. This year, it was a box of chocolates and a rocking chair that he handmade for me. When my first daughter was born, two days before Valentine’s Day, my dad told Ken of his tradition and said that it’s very important to always tell your daughters how much you love them. And he insisted that, at least once a year, it’s important to show them. My father never fails to show his love for me in all that he does and says, the sacrifices he has made for our family, and his outward displays of love for us all. Like Valentine, and like Jesus, my father is a man of humility and sacrifice.
So, while some may see Ash Wednesday as incongruent with Saint Valentine’s Day, I beg to differ. Ashes are a reminder, a sign of repentance, but also a symbol of love and a sign of the greatest gift ever given. As we begin Lent, we begin forty days of preparation for Good Friday, when Jesus shed his blood for our sins. He gave us the greatest gift of all, His life for ours. I’d say that makes Him the greatest example of what Saint Valentine’s Day is all about.
Ironic that we celebrate two seemingly at-odds holidays on the same day this year? Perhaps not.
Are you looking for a new way to meditate on the Stations of the Cross this Lent? If so, check out the newly revised edition of Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms. You can download the ebook version today!
What I was writing about this time last year: A Treasury of Memories
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017)