Lent starts with Ash Wednesday; this year, it’s on February 14th. That’s right, St. Valentine’s Day kicks off our Lenten season. It seems contrary when we think of the secular celebration of Valentine’s Day. Candy, date nights, romantic treats… but that’s not something St. Valentine specialized in.
You can read some interesting things about St. Valentine, though I’m not sure they’re all true. But one thing is certain, he was a martyr for his faith and makes a great role model for us coming into Lent.
The Real St. Valentine
The real St. Valentine of Rome is said to have been a priest who lived in the mid-to-late 200s. He had a courageous faith and was put to the test by Judge Asterius. He was to heal the judge’s blind daughter and in return, the judge would do anything for him. Valentine put his hands on her eyes and her vision was restored. The judge had to destroy all pagan images in his house and release all Christian prisoners. Asterius fasted for 3 days, was baptized, and converted his whole household.
He was later arrested again for converting people to Christianity and marrying Christian couples in secret (which may have been to save husbands from being sent to war.) He was sent before Emporer Claudius Gothicus (Claudius II) and tried to convert him. This angered the emperor and he was told to renounce his faith. Of course, Valentine would do no such thing and was executed outside the Flaminian Gate on February 14, 269. The year isn’t certain, but since other possible years are 270, 273, or 280, it’s close enough.
Another story tells of Valentine healing the jailer’s blind daughter and leaving her a note on the day of his execution signed “Your Valentine.”
Whatever story details are true, St. Valentine was a martyr who courageously stood up for his faith and diligently worked to convert others and aid other Christians.
Starting Lent with Love
Secular Valentine’s Day is often over-commercialized with candy, flowers, and cards. Couples are encouraged to indulge in romantic dates and children’s classes are filled with Valentine’s Day cards and trinkets.
It seems strange to start Lent with a day filled with such things, but maybe we’re looking at it all wrong. Valentine was a man of great virtue, spending his life sharing his love for Christ and martyred for his faith. Isn’t that true love?
As we enter Lent, shouldn’t we be thinking about our faith and how we should be loving God as He loves us? How deeper can one love than God? He sent His Only Son to die for us so that we might be in heaven with Him for all eternity.
So let’s take a page out of Valentine’s book and think of how we can think of Valentine’s Day a little differently. How can we share our love and our faith in a courageous way to kick off Lent this year? I have a few suggestions.
First, it’ll be Ash Wednesday so you’ll be getting ashes—don’t hide them. Is it a secret you’re a Catholic? If people ask, they ask. Take an opportunity to answer. Your proclamation of faith, brave or meek, might trigger curiosity that leads them to conversion. If you’re afraid you won’t know how to answer, get those answers now so you’re ready. Remember, don’t be ashamed of your faith! You can practice your faith quietly or loudly, but no need to hide it completely. Your love for Christ should not be a secret.
As a priest and one who converted many, St. Valentine was a man of deep prayer. What can you do to deepen your prayer life? If you’re starting at ground zero, pick a short prayer to say every morning or before bed. If you do that, add a Rosary. If you do that, add a devotion. Find a way to increase your prayer life and challenge yourself to make a new habit of it throughout Lent.
St. Valentine instructed Claudius to fast for 3 days. We can find ways to fast during Lent as well. Fasting empties our stomachs and clears our minds. It helps to prepare us for deeper prayer and new commitments. When Claudius was converted, he had his whole household converted. What kind of fast will help convert us to a deeper devotion to Christ? For some, fasting is simply giving up something sweet. For others, they may do a complete fast on certain days, not eating anything at all. Do what’s safe and right for you based on your needs and faith journey.
St. Valentine was committed enough to his faith to be martyred. While I don’t wish such a fate on anyone as a beheading, I know I need to commit my day to Christ every morning.
In what ways could you commit yourself more deeply to your faith?
If you don’t go to Mass weekly, start now. If you don’t pray regularly, do so now. If you have a calling to help others or a desire to donate what you have, now is a great time.
We each have different types of time, talent, and treasures and are called in different ways to use them. Listen to that call and answer it. God is calling each of us to deeper faith and commitment to His Will. If we answer those calls, we will not be left wanting or needing. He will fulfill all our needs and fill us with joy.
Ash Wednesday and a Deeper Love
We live in the world we live in. There will be Valentine’s Day cards and candy and the like. But we don’t have to live in a secular way. I’m going to give my kids candy the day before and remind them how to fast and pray for Ash Wednesday. We can make the fun tradition work but put our faith first.
Our commitment to our Catholic faith is a sign of our commitment to loving Christ. His Love goes deeper than we can imagine, but we must use that to call us to a deeper love ourselves.
You can have treats almost any day, but on this February 14th, remember St. Valentine’s commitment to the Lord and imitate that. Let that mark the start of this year’s Lenten season.