By Chris Onuoha
In the absence of other marked days in 2018 calendar year, there is something unique about this one, February 14. Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine’s Day celebration on this fateful day. Both celebrations are Christian ideology but celebrated beyond its significance.
While the former is an inception of the preparation of Christ’s crucifixion (Lent), the latter is in remembrance of a Catholic Monk, St. Valentine, a true love devotee. In reflection, both apparently mirrors the proverbial Cupid’s arrow significantly piercing the heart of Venus to prove undying love for what one craves and stands for.
“Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday, and placing them on the heads of participants to the accompaniment of the words “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”.(Wikipedia)
“While, Valentine’s Day also called Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine originating as a Western Christian feast day honouring one or two early saints named Valentinus. Valentine’s Day is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and romantic love in many regions around the world.
Martyrdom stories associated with various Valentines including a written account of Saint Valentine of Rome’s imprisonment for performing weddings for soldiers, who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians persecuted under the Roman Empire.
According to legend, during his imprisonment Saint Valentine restored sight to the blind daughter of his judge and before his execution he wrote her a letter signed “Your Valentine” as a farewell. In Europe, Saint Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers “as a romantic symbol and an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart”, as well as to children, in order to ward off epilepsy (called Saint Valentine’s Malady. The day first became associated with romantic love within the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. (Wikipedia)
Juxtaposing the significance of both anniversaries in our lives, it becomes obvious that love should continue to reign unconditionally. God loves the world so much that he gave his only begotten son (Jesus Christ) to die for the world, and he (Christ) willingly, accepted to be sacrificed on the cross of Calvary to redeem the sinful world.
On the other hand, the monk according to the legend did not relent in showing love to the judge that sentenced him to death by healing and restoring the sight of his daughter. He (Valentine) in other words, depicts an uncommon and unconditional love for what one stands for – true service to humanity.
Many Catholic faithful adorn their forehead this morning with mark of cross painted with ash. All of them, including corporate workers, businessmen/women and school children boldly display it as mark of allegiance to their faith. Also a touch red designs on clothes, shoes, ties or pins are equally noticeable among Valentine’s Day observers, while some wore complete red costume to reflect the mood. However, some school of thought believed the celebration should reflect its meaning in different ways.
Victoria Praise Abraham, Chief Executive Officer, Vic-Abraham Media Nigeria Limited reflected on this and said, “Love to me reflects the true nature of God because as a writer I know that the Bible describes God as love. Love obviously means many things to many people as today the 14th day of February is not just only Valentine Day but Ash Wednesday.
I find this not just a mere coincidence this year. God must be saying something to us. True love is deep, sacrificial and giving. As Nigerians we must imbibe the true nature of God found in 1Corinthains 13, both on a personal and corporate level. True love is the true nature of God.”
Reverend Father John Damian Adizie is a columnist and the Spiritual Director, International Youth Empowerment Center, Ekpoma, Edo State. In his own reflections, he stated; “The Lord invites us to return to him through the Prophet Joel: “Return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping and with mourning; and tear your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy, and repents of evil.”
He stressed three essential virtues which Nigerians should observe to attract the hand of God in their lives especially at this period of surmounting challenges. They include prayer, fasting and almsgiving. According to him, the three are inter-related without which one or two will not be effective.
Mrs. V. Ogbechie is the Internal Quality Assurance evaluator, Inspectorate Division, Nigerian Command Schools said, “Unfortunately I don’t believe in those two as a people normally do. For the Valentine, every day is love, but unfortunately, people take it for special day which has been hijacked amorously, just the way young people understand it. The scripture tells us in John 3: 16 that “God so love the world that he gave his only begotten son to die …” If you look at this chapter, you will see Valentine there.
For the Ash Wednesday, although, I am not a Catholic but I have a Catholic background, it signifies that we are dust and onto dust we must return. All these are just for sober reflections for anyone who calls himself a Christian. For the Lenten period, as you know, it is a period of penitence for Christians to refrains from things that give them pleasure.”
In a nutshell, February 14, 2018 according to opinion poll should stand out as a wakeup call to Nigerians, both Christians and non-Christians to imbibe a culture of unconditional love selfless service towards one another at this point of economic, political and social unrest in the country.