With so many questions being asked on whether to spend Valentine's Day during the observance of Ash Wednesday this year, the bishop of the Diocese of Dumaguete said the latter is a priority.
As far as the Church is concerned, there is no question about which one would precede the other in this “confluence of events”, Dumaguete Bishop Julito Cortes said.
“This is something very unique and probably not prepared for, and the last time we heard of this confluence of these two events was in 1945,” he added. “However, in the Church, we are very clear that we need to continue with the spirit of Lent. The spirit of the Lenten journey (is) one of prayer, fasting, sacrifice, penance, and alms-giving.”
And for those who are celebrating Valentine's Day, the prelate suggests that perhaps this can be “incorporated in the idea of love” and that lovers can think of creative ways to celebrate it meaningfully, “perhaps even more meaningfully than mere wining and dining and romantic dates.”
When speaking of Valentine's, what usually comes to mind as a symbol of love is the heart symbol, but the best symbol for love is Jesus Christ on the cross, the Bishop said.
“The measure of love, really, is our Lord, Jesus Christ on the cross because that is a love that is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the beloved, so he has become the standard, the measure of genuine love,” he added.
The prelate expressed hope that lovers can ponder on this as they celebrate Valentine's Day.
Cortes said Ash Wednesday is an opportunity for people to strengthen their relationship with “God, who is love, so that sharing in his love, we can be instruments of his love for others.”
Though there is no official recommendation here on how to reconcile the overlapping traditions,he stands firm that Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday, are the two most important days of the Catholic Church where fasting and abstinence are strictly observed.
Ash Wednesday is the start of the 40 days of religious observances of Lent, Cortes explained.
Cinder or ash crosses are marked on the foreheads of the people on this day, as a reminder that people are not just “earthly”, but “We have souls, we belong to God, and so our existence should not only be earthly but as St. Paul says, we should set our eyes on heaven,” he went on to say.
Also, as the priest marks the forehead of a person with ashes, he tells him/her to repent and stay away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel, and therefore, “Lent is a period of conversion, repentance, and renewal and recommitment to the Lord,” Cortes said.
On Tuesday evening, during a mass in celebration of the first anniversary of the diocese's Kahupayan Center for Counseling, the bishop issued his reaction to an article in the New York Times that "The confluence of the events... occurring for the first time since 1945, has created a dilemma for Roman Catholics and followers of other Christian denominations who observe Ash Wednesday. How can one simultaneously mark a solemn day when foreheads are tapped with a symbol of mortality as a call to humility and repentance while celebrating one that glorifies the kisses and champagne of romantic love?"
In response, Cortes said that for the Catholic Church, “There is no confusion. There is no compromise. Our primary duties in this sacred time – prayer, fasting, abstinence, penance, sacrifices, and alms-giving, are in place.”*JFP/PNA
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