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This Ashy Valentine’s Day Prompts Us To Ponder Our Two Most Important Relationships

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With candy aisles stocked to the brim with pink and red boxes of chocolate, Valentine’s Day must be here! And while CNN promotes personalized mementos, matching underwear, and date night cooking classes for the occasion, there is something so much more being offered to us. This year, make the day about ashes. In 2024, Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday — the day marking the beginning of the season of Lent. Both days are meant to remind us of what is most important: our relationship with God and our relationships with each other. 

Americans are busier than ever, and many say they don’t have time to slow down. We know that when things are hectic, we can easily forget the “why” that makes up the foundation of our lives. This year, the ashes of Valentine’s Day can help us be more intentional about what is most important. 

On the first day of Lent, ashes are sprinkled on the foreheads of all believers while one of two phrases is spoken: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” The death of Jesus Christ casts a shadow over the entire season of Lent. The day is marked with ashes to remind us that we will die one day as well. Remembering the imminence of death is meant to bring contemplation and clarity about how we are living.

Valentine’s Day, on the other hand, is a chance to take stock of our relationships, especially romantic ones. In that way, it is similar to Ash Wednesday. One day invites us to consider our relationship with God. The other invites us to consider our relationship with a spouse or other loved one, and place a higher emphasis on that person than on ourselves.

While historical records point to three “St. Valentines,” the most famous was a real priest in Rome who was famous for marrying couples in secret. Claudius II, the emperor at the time, was forbidding marriage because he was not getting enough men to sign up for the military. He thought marriage was making it less likely for men to devote their lives to fighting for him, so he outlawed it. 

Word began to spread that Valentine would marry couples in private so they could promise their lives to one another. Once the authorities found out, Valentine was arrested and placed in prison. According to the History Channel, “Legend also has it that while in jail, St. Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend, and signed it ‘From Your Valentine.’” He was later beheaded and martyred for his faith. 

St. Valentine protected love. Ash Wednesday personifies love. Both invite us to make relationships the bedrock of our lives.

The ashes you will see on many foreheads this week symbolize the fact that death comes to us all but that death is not the end. It shows that the love of our God is powerful enough to conquer death. Valentine’s Day is meant to convey that we are willing to do anything for the one we love and that sacrifice is critical for love to reach its perfection. Love is strongest when someone is willing to act for the good of the other person even if that means it will cost them. 

While the chaos of life can often win out, we are invited to remind ourselves of the fact that we need God and our loved ones. While these are two critical aspects of human civilization and our nation’s history, they can too easily be forgotten and ignored. This year, remember that the ashes and Valentine’s Day celebrations should reach beyond the superficial and toward the truth about who we are and how we are called to live and love.


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