Dear Friends,

This year, the beginning of the season of Lent, Ash Wednesday, fell on St Valentine’s Day. I am sure for some of us this caused a dilemma. Should February 14th be a day for chocolates and champagne, or kept as a day for fasting, sobriety and abstinence? Could it be a day for both?

Ash Wednesday and St Valentine’s Day do not converge very often (only three times in the last century) but I remember clearly the last time they overlapped in 2018.

I was in my final year at Theological College in Dublin and on a retreat at various churches in the city centre. By coincidence, one of the churches we visited was the magnificent Carmelite Church on Whitefriar Street. It was particularly busy on that wet and gloomy Ash Wednesday not just because the faithful had come to receive their ashes, but also because the church is home to the relics of St Valentine. I remember the warm glow of candlelight and hundreds of red roses surrounding St Valentine’s shrine.

Yes, Valentine was a real person (probably a priest or bishop) who was martyred in the 3rd century for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. The romantic legend surrounding poor Valentine comes from the story that just before his death he wrote a letter to the daughter of a Roman judge. He signed it ‘…your Valentine’, and the rest is history.

We are now in the middle of the season of Lent which Christians keep as a time for preparation and seeking God’s forgiveness. It needn’t be a time for misery and self-denial, rather an opportunity to slow down and think seriously about what it is we are preparing for. As Christians, we believe the greatest act of love ever shown to the world was in the death of Jesus on Good Friday, and his rising again to life on Easter Day. A display of love that was stronger than death.

This year our thoughts might have turned to love at the beginning of Lent, but we should also remember the enduing love of God when Lent gives way to Easter. Long after the red roses have drooped and the Valentine’s cards are in the recycling box, that love remains.

Yours in Christ,

Rev’d Dr Ian Mills