2018-02-21 / Columns

Chocolate, Hot Dates, Fasting and Contrition: Valentine’s Day and Lent
By James Krueger

Knowing that this reflection would publish in February, two obvious subjects presented themselves. This year February 14 was both Saint Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the penitential season of Lent in which Christians commit to fasting, almsgiving and other spiritual disciplines in preparation for Easter. How does one reconcile chocolates, hot dates, fasting and contrition? Perhaps Saint Valentine himself offers an answer.

It is not certain whether Valentine was a priest in Rome or a Bishop from another Roman territory, but around the year 270 A.D. on February 14, Emperor Claudius II had him executed. According to one tradition, Claudius, wildly unpopular, was having trouble recruiting for the vast army necessary to keep the peace. Avoiding the simple conclusion that not many people liked him or wanted to support him, he surmised that the problem of low recruitment was because Roman men were too attached to their wives and families.

To remedy this, Claudius essentially outlawed love: all engagements and marriages were banned in Rome. Considering that it was in his best interest to at least maintain, if not grow, the population base from which he might recruit an army, this was not a very wise or sustainable policy. Be that as it may, it was indeed the Emperor’s policy. Valentine, thinking it inhuman and unjust, continued to perform marriages in secret. When discovered, he was dragged before the Prefect of Rome and duly sentenced to death by a sustained beating followed by beheading.

There are historical problems with this story. Some biographies merely state that Valentine refused to renounce Christ when the Emperor demand that he do so. Like so many other early Christians, he was sentenced to a cruel death on these grounds alone. What is sure is that Valentine chose to remain faithful, and it is this kind of fidelity in all things that unites both the amorous protestations of love that mark Saint Valentine’s Day as we now know it, as well as the disciplines of Lent. In Lent, as in love, we choose to remain faithful to the thing that matters the most. As in all commitments of any consequence, this fidelity requires the renouncement of other possibilities.

Resolve to say “no”

The discipline of Lent is our resolve to say “no” to the creaturely comforts of this world, which are passing away, and to keep our eyes turned towards the eternal. We look beyond the ripples and the dancing light on the surface of the water in order to fathom the mysterious depths. Do we not do the same when we truly love another? Do we not choose to look towards this one alone, to see beyond the surface – both its beauties and its blemishes – into the depths of the heart of our beloved? Love, like Lent, is a discipline, and true love means limiting the possibilities for the sake of authentic intimacy with another.

To love is to offer. Love is sacrificial. One can only have it when it has been given away. Whether we’re giving sweets as a sign of love, or whether we are abstaining from sweets as a sign of love, Lent and Valentine’s Day both come down to love. You might still wonder how we are to reconcile penitence and love. I suggest that you get married and you’ll soon find out!

James Krueger serves as Priest in Charge at Saint

James Church Lake Delaware on Route 28 in Bovina. He is founder of Mons Nubifer Sanctus, a center dedicated to Christian spiritual formation through retreats and educational programs. To find out more about the retreats and programs that Mons Nubifer Sanctus offers, including Lenten silent retreats, please visit their website at www.monsnubifer.org, where Fr. Krueger also regularly blogs.

Courtesy of Hynes Funeral Home, Margaretville And Miller Funeral Home, Roxbury

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