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Father Christopher writes:-

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This year Ash Wednesday falls on 14th February which as everyone knows is also St Valentine's Day. Apparently this coincidence of dates last occurred in 1945 and will occur only twice more before 2100. It is often overlooked that St. Valentine's day is in fact a Christian feast listed in the calendars of both the Book of Common Prayer and Common Worship, though removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 because so little is known about the Valentine so honoured. The day commemorates the life and martyrdom of a Roman, described in the Book of Common Prayer as a Bishop, though it seems that there were at least three martyrs named Valentine and there is great uncertainty as to which one is commemorated on 14th February. As that day is associated with martyrdom, dying for the love of Jesus, it might seem rather strange that it has also become associated with romance - and perhaps even more nowadays with some rather tacky cards, cryptic messages in the pages of The Times and Daily Telegraph, expensive gifts, large bunches of red roses and overpriced themed restaurant dinners. When I was a boy there was a tradition of sending Valentine cards anonymously - and often to more than one other person - leaving the recipient wondering/hoping who the secret admirer was. I wonder if that is still done?

But this year 14th February will be a day when many Christians come to church to be ashed as a mark of repentance for sin, a day when we are reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return. Penitence is an essential part of our relationship with God and Ash Wednesday Mass is a corporate act of penitence. Towards the end of January, the first reading of our Sunday Mass was from the Book of Jonah and told how after the Ninevites had covered themselves with sackcloth in repentance for sin God showed mercy to them and did not after all destroy them, and in our reading from the prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday we will hear how God, in his tenderness and compassion, took pity on his people. And this shows a connection between Valentine's day and Ash Wednesday, for though we might use Valentine's Day to show our love for one special person, Ash Wednesday is when we can focus on God's love, on his merciful tenderness and compassion towards us despite our sins.

Should you be having a celebratory dinner for Valentine's day (even though strictly Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence) you might use the opportunity to reflect on the love that Jesus shows for us all, recalling how Jesus welcomes sinners and eats with them.

Blessings,

Fr Christopher.

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