ashes and valentine hearts

ash wednesdayheart

Good Catholics are facing a holiday dilemma this year. Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th.  Feasting or fasting? Chocolate hearts and flowers or solemn ashes?

Some bishops are taking the question very seriously, reminding their parishioners that our faith and liturgical responsibilities always trump secular holidays. A popular “go-around” solution is for Catholics to celebrate Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, the traditional “Mardi Gras” pre-Lenten celebration.

Last year, it was the great St. Patrick’s Day question. The great Irish saint’s feast day fell on a Friday in Lent, traditionally a meatless day. Would our souls face immortal danger if we ate corned beef on a Lenten Friday? Again, thank God for bishops who tell us what to do, or who set our minds and consciences at ease with a formal dispensation.

Yes, I’m being snarky! Call it old age. Call it fed up with being told what to do over these many years.

Call it a bad attitude from a not always good Catholic.

To clarify, I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day. For all its talk about freedom from the constraints of religious belief, society can be as bossy about its secular holidays as the church is about her sacred ones. We are bombarded with marketing, weeks and months before the holiday. Pressure is put on couples to over-spend on bad chocolates in fancy boxes, over-priced flowers, and expensive dinners.

Valentine’s Day is one more holiday to emphasize the loneliness of those who yearn for a relationship, have been hurt by love, or have lost their loved one.

Charlie Brown epitomizes the darker side of Valentine’s Day, and yet schools continue traditions that reward popularity, adding to children’s existing insecurities whether in grade school or high school.

Love is a good thing. It’s the summation of Jesus’s teaching. It IS the gospel message. It gives purpose to our lives, and is balm to our world.

But, don’t tell me how and when I must celebrate love.

For me, there’s no doctrinal conundrum over Ash Wednesday vs Valentine’s Day. After 59 years, my faith is no longer ruled by man-made regulations. After 36 1/2 years of marriage and 35 years of parenting,  love means more to me than roses and chocolates.

May we all celebrate the love in our lives. In its many forms. With gratitude. Each and every day.

(See also: Corned beef dispensations. Seriously! )