The sacred Lenten period begins on a more romantic note than we even know.
A few years ago, while I was still in the seminary, a class of deacons ahead of me by a couple of years were ordained on April 1. To everyone’s amusement, they took as their theme for the celebration, “Fools for Christ.”
This year, Easter Sunday will fall on April 1 – we can all be fools for Christ – but interestingly, Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, will fall on St. Valentine’s Day. All of which sounds weird and exciting at the same time.
What does it mean for Catholics? Well, some may heave sigh of relief for the excuse to keep Valentine’s Day plans a bit lowkey. For those looking at boxes of chocolates they must leave untouched for the day, perhaps a sigh of longing.
But hold on! Thanks to Ash Wednesday, this special day can be celebrated in plenty of unique, romantic ways:
- Couples can go get ashes together. Receive the ashes as a couple – if you’re married, as “one flesh” – and remember your own penance when you see the ash smudge on your partner’s forehead.
- Take on a “couple’s penance” for the season of Lent, by sacrificing together. Abstain from the same things, together. This can be a tremendous experience, because you will receive support and encouragement from your significant other when you are feeling a bit lazy and unmotivated to keep to your penance. It’s always easier doing difficult things together.
- Become Lenten prayer buddies and make it your goal to pray for each other’s intentions during the entire season in an even more powerful way.
- Undertake acts of charity together. It could be visiting a shelter or volunteering for some community service, teaching poor children or even getting involved in some parish ministry together.
- If you have had some differences in the last couple of months, take this opportunity to sit down together on Ash Wednesday and talk about it and resolve it. Decide on some concrete steps to follow during the season of Lent to strengthen your relationship. Ask the real St. Valentine to assist you with his prayers.
Use your imaginations! There are so many different and creative ways to celebrate love on Ash Wednesday. Remember that Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the spiritual season when we prepare ourselves for the mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord, which was God’s ultimate Act of Love for each one of us. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). This Valentine’s Day could be a powerful moment when you begin to rediscover the spiritual force of God in your relationship, and to begin living out your love for each other in more Christ-like ways. There is powerful romance in that.
Easter Sunday falling on April Fool’s Day is more than just interesting. It actually makes theological sense. St Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians says, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute.” (4:10) Paul is not being literal here, but ironic. The 1st-century Corinthians had fallen into pride and boasting about their spiritual accomplishments. They began to look down upon Paul, who had founded their Church, probably because his life was so full of hardship and sacrifice. What Paul is really saying is that his “foolishness” is actually a manifestation of God’s wisdom. The Corinthians “think” they are wise, but they are actually entrapping themselves in the folly of their culture.
In today’s world, being committed to the way of the Gospel may appear to be “foolish” in the eyes of the secular world. Going against the popular mood is either considered fashion or foolish.
The dates of Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday aligning with these secular holidays can be important starting points for our deeper understanding of both. For Ash Wednesday and all of Lent, we can more firmly root our relationships in love through a shared practice of the faith – so much deeper than a day of flowers and chocolate.
And for Easter, we can adopt the “foolishness” of the Cross, which the world does not understand, but which is “wisdom” in God’s eyes. The wisdom of the world is fleeting and will soon pass away. But God’s Kingdom will remain forever.