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Lara Patangan explains why it's fitting that this year, Valentine's Day falls on Ash Wednesday.

I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. There’s a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercialism of heart-shaped love contrasted with the stark smudge of an ashen cross gives a whole new meaning to opposites attract. Both symbols convey entirely different perceptions of the nature of love. 

There is an element of realism inherent in the black ash symbolizing death that the puffy red heart celebrating love glosses over with its shiny facade. And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, à la doilies, hyped-up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is surprisingly refreshing. 

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead. (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)  




Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting. It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent deserts, and red roses. I like the juxtaposition of it. But there is a commonality that exists between the two. At the core of each is love, and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing His only Son for our salvation.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16, NRSV) 


On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins. Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice, can be wiped clean. We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season. It is this mercy that allows for everything: forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life. The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.  


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I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with heart-shaped trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead. #CatholicMom


That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but. Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die. Most of us also acknowledge the imperfect nature of human love. In comparison, what God promises is eternal and unfailing. It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world. It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him. It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief. It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world, but rather offers the bloom of eternal life.    

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy. It’s trying again, like Jesus did when he fell carrying his cross. It’s forgiving, like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.    

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.   

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told. 



Copyright 2024 Lara Patangan
Images: Canva