A rare date coincidence has Christians in a bit of a conundrum this Valentine's Day. Today also happens to be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. The two haven't fallen on the same day since 1945.
While Valentine's Day is typically a day of romance and indulgence, Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and sacrifice. Historically, it's a day of fasting. Catholics are urged to abstain from meat. Even children will often give up something for lent, like sweets or sodas. So what is a good Christian to do?
"It's a lovely convergence this year because the season of Lent is not really meant to be six weeks of suffering but really that reflection on that we've received God's love," says Ann Hulquist, the Senior Pastor at Denver's Augustana Lutheran Church.
"Valentine's Day is a season of love, so Ash Wednesday falling on that day is a beautiful time to think about how God loves us," she added.
Many religious leaders agree that this is a not a day to feel shame or guilt. Rev. Eric Strader of Christ Church Colorado says he's encouraging his congregation to focus on their relationships with one another and with God this Lenten season.
"I prefer not to name the ashes as a sign of shame or guilt or sorrow, but one where God claims us as beloved and transformed to turn around the beauty and grace in our lives," said Strader.
But what about the meat and sweets that typically come with a Valentine's Day dinner? The Denver Archdiocese offered five tips for Catholics who are avoiding meat and trying to faithfully observe Ash Wednesday.
Take her out for a salad.
Take her to mass and confession.
Cuddle up to "The Passion of the Christ"
Get her a box of salmon hearts. (reporter's note – could not find "salmon hearts" for sale online)
Consider making your penance during Lent something that benefits your significant other.
The Catholic Church says Ash Wednesday takes precedence over Valentine's Day. But bottom line, there are plenty of ways to celebrate both. And some Christian denominations are offering a little leeway.
"You could make a choice to give yourself a little dispensation on Valentine's day and start your Lent practices the next day. The day after Ash Wednesday would probably be okay," says Pastor Hulquist.
We'll check back with her on Easter ...which this year happens to fall on April Fool's Day.
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