It's starting to seem like the Church's calendar and the secular calendar have gotten together and decided that 2017/2018 will be the year of inconvenient dating. First, Christmas and Mary, the Mother of God were both on Monday and now, now Ash Wednesday is on Valentine's Day (and if you haven't looked that far ahead yet, Easter is on April Fool's Day).
The Church calls us to fasting and abstinence two times a year, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are days that are set apart to remind us of our total dependence on God and on the complete and total love He has for us, made present in the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.
As I've been thinking about this collision of the sacred and worldly on February 14, I'm reminded of Jesus' words to not look dismal when we fast (Matthew 6:16). We're not told to not fast, we're told not to look miserable about it, no matter how miserable we might be feeling at the time. February 14 provides us a unique opportunity to live out these words. We do not need to spend our day bemoaning that it is Valentine's Day and we can't eat all the chocolate and candy hearts we want. Rather, we should spend Ash Wednesday preparing ourselves for Lent and ultimately for the great celebration of Easter.
The reading for Morning Prayer on Ash Wednesday is from Deuteronomy 7 and reminds us that we a people sacred to God, we are chosen and the Lord loves us. He does not want us to be miserable, so all hope for candy and chocolate is not lost. The day before Ash Wednesday, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, is a day that has historically been devoted to all the things that we restrict in Lent, it is a day of feasting and revelry before the fast.
Just like fasting helps us remember our dependence on God and each other, the feasting should remind us of the love and bounty of God (and we should in turn readily share that bounty with others).
So this year make your Valentine's Day start a little early and celebrate Mardi Gras with all the chocolate and candy you want.
Flip a few pancakes, eat a few donuts and maybe even have that steak that you won't be having for the next few Fridays.
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director for Liturgy in the Office of Formation for Discipleship.