In case you haven’t checked your February 2024 calendar yet, Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day. With two seemingly contrasting holidays sharing the same date, this year’s February 14th is bound to test people’s priorities. The start of the liturgical 40-day season of Lent requires fasting and abstinence, while the most romantic day of the year encourages luxurious indulgences.
For the Catholic faithful and other Christian denominations who observe Lent, this calendar mashup provides a challenging conundrum. Ash Wednesday officially begins the 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Paschal Mystery, which is commemorated during Holy Week. This sacred day, along with Good Friday, requires obligatory fasting and abstinence.
Fasting and abstinence during Lent go beyond simply abstaining from meat. Catholics are called to give up indulgences and unite themselves with the sacrifice of Jesus in the desert. Alongside prayer, fasting, and abstinence, Catholics are also encouraged to spend time helping those in need.
However, in a country known for its penchant for excessive consumerism and romantic indulgences, the ethos and ascetic practices of Ash Wednesday seemingly stand in stark contrast with the obsessive materialism of Valentine’s Day. Filipino culture often celebrates February 14 with fancy dinners, bouquets of red roses, heart-shaped balloons, decadent chocolates, and grand displays of affection.
Renowned anthropologist Nestor Castro suggests that these Valentine’s Day practices will continue, even if it is Ash Wednesday, because Filipinos differentiate religiosity from sexuality. So how should Catholics observing Lent navigate the Valentine’s Day fever? According to Fr. Kevin James Fonacier, parochial vicar at St. Jude Thaddeus Filipino-Chinese Personal Parish in Legazpi City, the solution lies in being “creative” when it comes to showing love for others.
For Maria Jira Apuya, a mother who has been married for 14 years, being “creative” means moving the celebration to a later date, opting for meatless alternatives, and refraining from sweet treats. She believes that Ash Wednesday is a holy day that cannot be rescheduled, while Valentine’s Day celebrations can wait. This year, she intends to prioritize receiving the cross of ashes on her forehead and use the time for spiritual introspection instead of going on a family date.
In 2018 and 1945, Ash Wednesday also coincided with Valentine’s Day. These two holidays are bound to overlap again in 2029 and 2096, just a few years before the century ends. While it may seem contradictory to start the penitential season on the most romantic day of the year, Fr. Fonacier sees observing Ash Wednesday on February 14 as a “very good opportunity for Catholic Christians to really reflect on the magnanimity of love.” The cross, the ultimate symbol of divine love, represents sacrificial and life-giving love that everyone should aspire to emulate.
In navigating this calendar collision in 2024, Fr. Fonacier reminds the faithful to keep the start of the Lent season a priority. While Valentine’s Day may tempt us with its allure, it is essential to remember the significance of Ash Wednesday and the opportunity it provides for deep reflection and spiritual growth.
So, as Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincide this year, let us embrace the challenge of balancing these seemingly contrasting holidays. Let us be creative in our expressions of love and prioritize our spiritual journey during Lent. By doing so, we can make the secular sacred and find meaning in both the penitential and romantic aspects of February 14th.
Source: The Manila Times