Thursday, February 14, 2013

Getting warmed up

Happy Valentine's Day! It's very interesting that it falls right at the start of Lent. Of course, it was bound to happen; any late 16th-century kindergartener could have deduced that February 14, 2013 would be the day after Ash Wednesday of the same year.

All the same, don't you feel something a little jarring? Whether it's Valentine's Day or St. Patrick's Day, perhaps you have a sense of something being off, when the day in question falls in Lent. How do I deal with that?, you might ask yourself. Will I celebrate it with flowers and chocolate or green beer, or will I look wistfully on as the unchurched continue appropriating the celebrations for themselves?

The answer, I think, is already given to us. As Chesterton observed, there is no other such great contradictory religion as Catholicism. Here we have two very (seemingly) contradictory events: Valentine's Day, no longer an official feast day, it is true, but still a day very much rooted in Catholic heritage and one or two saintly people named Valentine– a holiday on which love is supposed to reign supreme, and people give themselves leave (or feel obligated) to show their affection in extraordinary ways– and Lent, a period of mortification, prayer, and giving. In fact, on closer inspection, they are very well suited for each other. For what is love without sacrifice? And what is sacrifice without love?

If you are perplexed about the former question, look no further than the superficial traditions and guilt-trips our culture has tacked onto Valentine's Day. The latter question is less accessible, precisely because this culture has divorced sacrifice from love, and when it uses 'sacrifice' at all, it means things like "paying more taxes so we can spend more money on every level... for the kids" or soldiers who "sacrifice for this country" without any further elucidation.

Love and sacrifice. They go together. Put aside time today to do something that will add warmth to your Lent.

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