The Ashes of Valentine

Since Valentine’s Day lands on the same day as Ash Wednesday this year, it is an invitation to consider what these two days have in common.

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St. Valentine did not believe in soft love. He preached and died for a sacrificial love that counts no cost. While so many will celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolates, flowers, and desserts, there is something different being offered to us all this year.

Since Valentine’s Day lands on the same day as Ash Wednesday this year, it is an invitation to consider what these two days have in common. One evident connection is the fact that both have to do with remembering something that we can too often take for granted: love is more powerful and important than anything. 

This might seem to be a hyperfocus on Valentine’s Day over Ash Wednesday, but they are both (when truly investigated) concerned with true love. One says that romantic love must be celebrated and be given special attention or else it risks becoming extinguished. The other says that the death that awaits all of us is not as powerful as the love of God who has come to save us and die for our sins. 

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So, many will turn out in our churches today who do not regularly attend Sunday Mass. Some might only come to the church a few days a year, but they want their ashes. There is something about the day that beckons the masses to return to God. It shows that our natural instinct is to center our lives on God, especially in the light of our own mortality. The true challenge for those receiving ashes is to commit to God and to Lent longer than it takes for the dust to fade from our foreheads. 

Faith is not a transaction. Ashes do not make us holy. An ongoing commitment to remember our death and fall in love with our Savior is what brings about true conversion. This is why the connection between St. Valentine and Ash Wednesday is critical and providential. Relationships are only strengthened when they are tended after with an intentional heart and mindset. That is the true reason why Valentine’s Day is important.

There is some historical confusion about who Valentine actually was because we have three versions of Valentines referenced in the early church. Most likely, the one we celebrate today was a priest, possibly a bishop, who lived in the third century. He was a man of deep faith and profound conviction. He was committed to serving Christ and promoting His love because he experienced Him intimately. 

Emperor Claudius II was in power during Valentine’s life, and he decided to outlaw marriage because he believed that this would help him gain more soldiers in his army. He thought that many men were not enlisting because they would rather enter marriage; and once they entered marriage, they would not want to leave their wife and serve in the army. Valentine began marrying couples in secret despite the new law. He knew that love was more powerful and important than anything else in this world.

When word spread about his actions, he was imprisoned. While in jail, Valentine became friendly with the jailor and even healed his blind daughter. They became close as well, and he would frequently sign his letters to her, “your Valentine.” He was later beheaded and gave his life for his faith. The love that he lived for became the love he died for in his martyrdom. 

Both the first day of Lent and the celebration of Valentine’s Day come at a pivotal time for us. In a world and a Church filled with so much confusion, we must constantly remind ourselves of what is most important. The deep relationship we have with our God and with our loved ones must reside at the center of our lives. Lent means nothing less than that. However, the beauty and intentionality behind Valentine’s Day can also last longer than one day a year. Both the first day of Lent and the celebration of Valentine’s Day come at a pivotal time for us.Tweet This

What if we lived each day like it was Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day? I am not promoting a lifetime of fasting, nor am I championing for expensive desserts and flowers to become a daily occurrence. What if we looked at our spouse every day of the year like we do on Valentine’s Day? What if we prayed and focused on God every day of the year like we do on Ash Wednesday?

The love that inspires us to sacrifice what we love, or pray more, or deepen our faith is the same love that brings us to spoil our spouse or loved one. The recognition that nothing is more powerful or more important than love is the common denominator; and it is what every saint had flowing through the core of their being. 

So, let the ashes of Valentine bring you to live for love in a radical way beyond February 14th. Then Lent—and our entire life—will be an offering. Then we can experience that nothing can beat love, not even death.


  • Thomas Griffin

    Thomas Griffin is the chair of the religion department at a Catholic high school on Long Island where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is the founder and editor-in-chief of Empty Tomb Project: The Magazine.

tagged as: Catholic Living

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