Some people, especially those who go to church only at Christmas and Easter, forget when Lent rolls around, so I’m here to give everybody — faithful and non — a heads-up that the penitential season is just six or seven days away, depending on your method of counting.
So it’s time to prepare to do penance for 40 days, with the choices of self-denial pivoting mostly on the customs of your denomination — Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian other Protestant faiths or wherever your beliefs fall.
I also feel compelled to warn the subspecies of the human race — specifically, those of us of the male persuasion — that Valentine’s Day is a mere six or seven days away, depending, again, on how you count your fingers and toes.
This is a rare confluence of the Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t even born the last time that happened, and World War II still raged on Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day 1945.
So men — especially practicing Catholics older than 14 who hew to the requirement to fast between meals and refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (and abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent) — might want to get ahead of the 8-ball and devise an alternative romantic plan now.
Remember man, that thou art dust, and unto dust you could return a lot faster than you expected — if you don’t stoke the home fires with romance.
It could be as easy as celebrating Valentine’s Day early — or late — to make your spouse feel as if you know what women want. If you don’t, and if your lady fancies hearts and flowers and a nice filet, you could end up doing penance for much more than 40 days.
It’s all on you because the Roman Catholic hierarchy won’t cut some slack for this, as it did last year when St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday during Lent.
Most bishops, including La Crosse Bishop William Callahan, lifted the Friday meat ban so Irish and wannabe Irish could enjoy the St. Paddy’s Day staple of corned beef and cabbage. At the same time, they encouraged the faithful to abstain on another day in exchange.
I am certain that even my dad, were he alive, would not give anyone a pass on Ash Valentine’s Day, even though he used to treat Lent with a leprechaun-ish wink and nod on St. Patrick’s Day. Back then, Catholics had to fast every dang day during Lent, and at our house, we routinely gave up candy and Dad sacrificed his daily it’s-5-o’clock-somewhere highball as penitential rites.
But on St. Patrick’s Day, which Dad summarily exempted from the bonds of Lent, he pulled the Seagram’s 7 down from its shelf to have a highball or two, and he let us gorge ourselves on candy.
However, he refused to be as irresponsible as other scofflaws, who also claimed Sundays weren’t parts of Lent and eschewed self-denial on those days. These days, they might be regarded as lenten losers.
Dad was the poster boy for the old saying about somebody being more Catholic than the pope.
He didn’t have a gun, but he’d have stuck to the church’s guns on Ash Wednesday, because that is like the Super Bowl of Lent. Ignoring rules on the lenten launch pad would be akin to hosting the Super Bowl without having a team in it.
Wait, what? Somebody’s doing that already? Wonder how that will be workin’ for them? Vikings lenten losers?
If I were a lovelorn lad of 17 or 18 and tried to persuade Dad that St. Valentine deserves as much deference as St. Patrick so I could have a steak date night, I suspect he would have put his foot down — and maybe, somewhere else — if I protested too much.
So sort things out now, fellas, so your sweetie doesn’t turn sour and make you dress in sackcloth and ashes.
- Feb. 13 is Fat Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras, the climax of the carnival season in the run-up to Lent, so celebrate with the little lady that night. Caution: If she asks you whether her outfit makes her butt look fat on Tuesday (or any other day), tell her no (even if you have to lie — that’s what confession is for).
- If you give up festive nights all together during Lent, just do something this weekend.
- Pay attention to this next point, because I’m going to lay down the law as the pope, cardinals, bishops and, yeah, even as Dad would. Ever since I was knee-high to a leprechaun, I have had total disdain for holier-than-thou folks who go out for lobster dinners as their “sacrificial” abstinence from meat.
Even though I don’t cotton to lobster myself and might not even eat it if I were starving, I know a lot of people regard it as an extra-special treat for special occasions.
That said, it doesn’t count as penance. Soooo, my position is that, just because eating lobster is Catholic Catechismically legal on Ash Wednesday, that doesn’t make it right.
Bottom line, men, don’t get your wires crossed if you’re trying to get right with God and your spouse. There’s a way to do both, with a little planning.
If you blow it this year, don’t despair. It won’t be 73 years until this coincidence happens again, as it was this season. For some reason that only calendar and mathematic geeks could explain, Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine’s Day will mesh again in 2024, and five years after that, followed by another long hiatus until 2100.
Pick your penance wisely. I quickly regretted my decision to do mine in advance by watching 45’s SOTU speech Tuesday night.
Too long. Too many alternative facts. Too much, uh, well, ash kissing in some galleries — not to mention the fact that it was the first time I’ve ever seen someone give himself a standing ovation. Repeatedly, distractingly.
The last Ash/Valentine’s Day happened in 1945.