OPINION: Ash Valentine’s Day

A Lenten date night guide for the Catholic college student

By Susan Katherine Corkran, Columnist

As we approach the beginning of Lent, we are called upon to reflect on our life, our choices and our willingness to sacrifice. Sometimes this means the excruciating separation from coffee for forty days and forty nights. For others, it may mean logging off of all social media until Easter Sunday dawns. Desserts are forsaken, meals are less decadent and meat is no longer on Friday’s menu. Ash Wednesday kicks off the whole season with a day full of the question, “You know you have something on your forehead, right?” And just to make the day extra special, it falls on Valentine’s Day this year.

So how do you balance a day of solemnity and romance with ashes on your forehead? Or if you are not a Catholic but dating one, what do you need to know before you jump into this Lenten season? In keeping with the Ten Commandments, I offer the following tips.

1) Brainstorm some fun date ideas ahead of time! In a way, we are actually really lucky to be discouraged from indulging in big, fancy meals on the Days of Abstinence. As cute as it is in Lady and the Tramp, restaurant dinner dates can sometimes come across as cliché. Instead of mourning the lost chance to slurp the same spaghetti noodle as your sweetheart, think of this day as an opportunity to break out of the box! Shake things up by trying something totally new, and maybe even starting a new date night tradition.

2) Consider something non-edible as a heart-shaped offering. True, chocolates and candy hearts are a reliable gift idea this time of year, but sweets are also a pretty standard sacrifice to make during Lent. This is a chance to show your creative side!

3) Figure out when you are going to mass BEFORE Feb. 14. Whether you are going to your home’s local parish or attending mass at the St. Bellarmine chapel right by our campus, make sure that you look up the times mass is offered before Wednesday comes around. Most parishes will offer very early services, and as little as most of us enjoy waking up early, it’s probably the best choice. You’ll be free for your classes and your date later on in the day, and that will make that early morning alarm worth it!

4) A central part of Lent is focused around reflecting on the gifts we have to be grateful for—so consider taking a moment to sit down with your partner and just mention the things you love about them, and that you’re grateful to have in your life. I usually turn to writing when I want to express feelings so personal, so you could make a handwritten list to give your valentine. Even if you are not participating in Lent yourself, it is never a bad idea to reflect joyfully on all of the little things you have to be grateful for in your partner and in your life!

5) If you keep a prayer journal or try to read a little bit of scripture each day (I admire you for that effort, by the way!), look up some of the love poetry in the Song of Solomon.

6) And on that note, these verses are worth reading too if you want a mention of love in your scripture: John 15:13, Ephesians 5:2, Romans 8:38-39, 1 John 3:16, 1 John 3:1 and Romans 5:8.

7) Don’t buy tickets for Fifty Shades of Grey. Just . . . don’t.

8) Because Lent is a time of giving, talk to your partner about the possibility of taking the money you were going to use on presents for each other and giving it to a charity instead. The readings at mass are full of encouragement to give to the poor, and reminders of how vital it is to authentically living Christian faith that you care for those most in need. There are plenty of occasions to spoil the one you love, but think what a world we would live in if we made that kind of effort to care for everyone with such affection.

9) Money isn’t the only thing we can give. Think about causes that are near and dear to your heart and find time this Lent to volunteer time and effort to help out. This can be a new kind of date night tradition that carries on beyond Feb. 14, if you and your partner are willing to commit time to this together. Whether it’s volunteering as tutors for a local school or making some food to give to a nearby shelter, there are plenty of ways each of us can improve the lives of others—and have fun while we do so!

10) Most importantly, remember that Valentine’s Day is only one day out of 365. We can show our love for the special people in our lives every other day too, by taking the time to express our feelings in little ways. You don’t need roses and candlelight to be romantic.

Photo by Allie Thompson