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Valentine's Day is Ash Wednesday. What to Make of That?

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By Marc Massery (Feb 13, 2018)
This year, one of the most austere observances on the liturgical calendar coincides with a holiday synonymous with fancy dinners, fine wine, expensive jewelry, and rich chocolates. For the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday falls on Feb. 14 — Valentine's Day.

The modern Valentine's Day hardly brings to mind the death of the ancient martyr, St. Valentine of Rome. One hagiographical account tells of a third-century priest named Valentine who was executed by Emperor Claudius II for officiating sacramental marriages at a time when Christianity was illegal. Another story tells of an ancient bishop named Valentine who, after having been jailed for his faith, restored sight to his captor's blind daughter. Before his execution, Bishop Valentine left a note to the girl whom he had healed, signing it, "Your Valentine."

Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare further romanticized this feast day through their writings. Since it fell in the middle of February, when birds were thought to mate, they associated it with courtly love and romance. By the 20th century, Hallmark was mass producing the Valentine's Day greeting card. Soon, our consumer culture had embraced this holiday as an opportunity to shower our significant others with tangible signs of affection in the name of romantic love. Today, Valentine's Day is a billion dollar industry. In 2016, Americans spent a record $19.7 billion on Valentine gifts and festivities, according to the National Retail Federation.

Meanwhile, marriage rates in this country have hit a new low. In 2015, we averaged 6.74 marriages per 1,000 people with an expected decline over the next several years, according to Demographic Intelligence. Since love is seen as a mere fickle emotion, couples are no longer committing to each other in marriage. Hiding behind flowers and heart-shaped candies, we have lost sight of what it means to truly love. As Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine's Day, we are reminded of a hard truth: Love inevitably requires sacrifice.

At the beginning of the Lenten season, St. Faustina saw a vision of Christ hanging from the Cross. He said, "My pupil, have great love for those who cause you suffering. Do good to those who hate you." In response, St. Faustina told Christ that she did not feel any love for the souls who caused her pain. He replied, "It is not always within your power to control your feelings. You will recognize that you have love if, after having experienced annoyance and contradiction, you do not lose your peace, but pray for those who have made you suffer and wish them well" (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1628).

True love does not depend upon our changing emotions, but on choosing to sacrifice for others. These choices may not give us the greatest feelings. In fact, sometimes we have to act against how we feel for the sake of love. When we do, we may suffer, but through this pain the Lord promises that we will find peace.

Through the mystery of faith, Christ can take all the sacrifices we make for one another and use them for a higher purpose. Saint Faustina writes, "Today I felt the Passion of Jesus in my whole body, and the Lord gave me knowledge of the conversion of certain souls" (Diary, 1627). Through our suffering, Christ can sanctify others. When we recognize this redemptive quality of suffering in our daily lives, we follow in the footsteps of the saints. We do not have to die as a martyr for our faith like St. Valentine or enter a religious order like St. Faustina to make use of our pain. Any time we suffer — whenever we become lonely, depressed, frustrated, or angry; whenever we experience rejection, feel misunderstood, struggle financially, or endure an illness — we can offer these sufferings to Christ, and He will transform them through the power of the Cross.

The best way to unite our sufferings to Christ is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. During the offertory, we spiritually lay our burdens, our crosses, at the altar. At the consecration, when the priest says, "[F]or this is My Body, which will be given up for you," we have the opportunity to say of ourselves, "This is my body given up for You." When we consume Christ in the Eucharist, the appearances of our lives, our circumstances, our afflictions, our relationships may remain the same. But beneath the surface, Christ will transform our substance — our bodies, our blood, our souls, our intellects — more and more into His image. Christ loves us so much that even though He already suffered, died, and has risen in His own human nature, He wants to be with us as we suffer in ours. We can, therefore, rejoice in our suffering because through our pain we fill up "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church" (Col 1:24).

Saint Faustina recognized the necessity of becoming a living sacrifice for Christ, especially in the season of Lent. She said, "Throughout this Lent, I am a host in Your hand, Jesus" (Diary, 1622). In another entry, she said, "I want to become a sacrificial host for sinners. Let the shell of my body conceal my offering, for Your Most Sacred Heart is also hidden in a Host, and certainly You are a living sacrifice" (Diary, 908). When we give our whole lives over to Christ, we will be able to give ourselves more completely to others.

Our culture seldom sees the redemptive quality of suffering and often misses out on the beauty of self-sacrifice. Many of us, therefore, reject commitment, happy to give material gifts but afraid to give our lives to others. This "Ash Valentine's Day," let's reawaken to the necessity of self-sacrifice. This Lent, let's give up more than just one thing. Let's give Christ everything, offering ourselves as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to Him, renewing our minds through prayer and penance so that we may discern what is the will of God, what is good, pleasing, and perfect (see Rom 12:1-2).

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Editor - Feb 15, 2018

Hello James.
The 1628 doesn't refer to a year; it refers to entry 1628 in St. Faustina's Diary.
God bless

James - Feb 15, 2018

on 2nd thought could also be 1938, the year of her death, in any case all the years mentioned are of 17th century - Sr Faustina a prominent 20th-century saint; may God continue to bless us all in our daily lives

James S. - Feb 15, 2018

error, the year mentioned "1628", must be 1928 (she passed away in 1938) - otherwise, things like this always inspiring items