Five things to do for your beloved on Ash Valentine’s Day

Aaron Lambert

Please note: This article is meant to be a fun take on celebrating Valentine’s Day on Ash Wednesday. 

It’s not every year that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. In fact, the last time such an occurrence happened was 73 years ago in 1945.

While Valentine’s Day has its roots in the Catholic Church, originally a feast day honoring various saints named Valentine who were martyred in the 2nd century, it has since become a day dedicated to love and romance. As such, it has become a tradition in society to take your beloved out for an extravagant date – a tough thing to do if the date also happens to fall on the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.

So, what’s a smitten Catholic to do?

A few bishops in the U.S. have issued statements saying that the observance of Ash Wednesday should take precedence over that of Valentine’s Day, and of course, we agree. This means that for Christians, it’s probably not appropriate to gorge on bottles of champagne, boxes of chocolates and buckets of candy hearts with your sweetheart.

That said, there are still ways for Catholic lovers to indulge in the romance of Valentine’s Day and still fulfill the requirements of Ash Wednesday. Here are five.

Take her out for the best salad in Denver

Fasting and abstinence from meat are both important parts of Ash Wednesday and should be practiced as such. However, fasting doesn’t mean you can’t eat at all for that day; it just means you need to eat less (USCCB guidelines say one full meal and two smaller meals not equal to a full meal). With that in mind, why not take your darling out for a salad? Not just any salad though – a delicious, gourmet, downright to-die-for salad. Denver is home to a wealth of restaurants that feature healthy, vegetarian options that are also delectable. Just Google “best salad in Denver” and see for yourself.

Take her to Mass and confession

It’s the man’s job in a relationship to the be spiritual leader and head of his family, and this same mentality applies to men who aren’t married. Whether it’s a crush you finally gathered the courage to ask out, a new girlfriend, or a wife of 10 years, the role of a man to ensure that special girl in his life has a clean soul doesn’t change. Before you go scarf down that salad, take her to confession and get some ashes together at your parish.

While The Passion of the Christ isn’t exactly your typical “date movie,” it is the greatest love story ever told.

Cuddle up to the Passion of the Christ

While the Passion of the Christ isn’t exactly your typical “date movie,” it is the ultimate love story. Watching this extremely visceral depiction of the sacrifice Christ made for mankind on the Cross serves as a potent reminder of what we are all called to as Christian husbands and wives. Cuddling is optional, but remember: this is a movie about Jesus.

Get her a box of salmon hearts

Because who doesn’t love getting a box of treats on Valentine’s Day? Granted, a box of salmon hearts may be a bit, um, fishier, than the contents of a box of chocolates, but at least you know you’re still well within the bounds of your Ash Wednesday obligations when indulging in them.

Salmon hearts. Give it a few years, they’ll be huge.

Offer up your penance during Lent in service to her

Finally, it would be wise – and quite chivalrous – to consider making your penance during Lent something that benefits her. For married couples, this could mean offering to do some sort of household chore each day or taking the kids in the morning to let your wife sleep in a little bit. For dating couples, it could mean being more intentional about doing something little each day to let her know that you care about her. Whatever the Lord calls you to, it’s virtually guaranteed that doing something along these lines will only benefit your relationship with your significant other, and what’s not to love about that?

COMING UP: Honored for 50 years of service at Cabrini Shrine, man says it’s been ‘blessing after blessing’

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Every workday, facilities manager Tom Francis starts his morning the same way. He enters the chapel at Mother Cabrini Shrine on Lookout Mountain, turns on the lights and addresses a statue of the shrine’s namesake.

“I tell her, ‘OK boss, this is your place. I’m just a pair of hands. You need to help me or we won’t be able to be here for those who come.’”

On December 1, Tommy, as he is affectionately called, marked 50 years as an employee of the shrine, which is named after St. Frances Xavier Cabrini, the first U.S. citizen to be canonized. The shrine staff honored the energetic 71-year-old with a Mass and luncheon.

“Tommy has a deep devotion to Mother Cabrini,” said JoAnn Seaman, Development Director. “He has had a huge impact on the shrine and what it has become. … He is very humble and gives all the credit to Cabrini.”

In 1880, the native Italian nun founded the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus to spread devotion to the Sacred Heart by means of the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. Desiring to do mission work in China, instead Pope Leo XIII urged her to minister to Italian immigrants in the United States. From 1889 until her death in 1917, Mother Cabrini did so, even becoming a naturalized citizen in 1909.

Tommy was recognized for service that started when he was a 21-year-old college student who labored summers, nights and weekends at the shrine and lived with his parents, grandmother and siblings in the caretaker’s house. But in reality, his service began when he was still a child and his father Carl worked as the maintenance manager for Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. Located in north Denver, the orphanage operated from 1905-1967. It was torn down in 1969.

“I was blessed to work with my dad and to be around the [Missionary] Sisters all the time,” Tommy said. “By the time my dad passed [in 1984] he’d spent 54 years of his life working for them. It was from him I learned respect for the sisters and their mission.”

Even after Tommy finished college and was working fulltime as a math teacher, he continued working part-time at the shrine. Upon retiring from a successful 30-year teaching career in 2003, he began laboring fulltime at the shrine.

“Mother Cabrini bought this property in 1910, primarily as the summer home for the girls at Queen of Heaven Orphanage,” Tommy explained. “In 1938, when she was beatified, they started building a chapel as there was a lot of interest in Mother Cabrini…. After she was canonized in 1946, that’s when the real development started. In the 1950s the statue of Jesus was placed at the top of the hill. That’s how the shrine got started.”

By the time Tommy started working there, Mother Cabrini had been canonized more than 20 years and was recognized as the patron of immigrants. The shrine was already attracting pilgrims who wanted to walk where a saint had once walked.

Tom Francis has worked at Mother Cabrini shrine for 50 years, continuing the legacy started by his father, who began working for the Shrine in 1930, when it was operating as Mother Cabrini’s Queen of Heaven Orphanage. (Photos by Daniel Petty/Denver Catholic)

They were also drawn by a spring that was discovered in 1912 when Mother Cabrini’s sisters complained to her about the lack of water on the property. The saint told them: “Lift that rock over there and start to dig.” They did and found a spring that runs to this day. Many pilgrims believe that through faith, the water has brought healing and peace to their lives.

A replica of the grotto at Lourdes, France, was built over the spring in 1929 and replaced with the current one in 1959. The historic Stone House dormitory, completed for the orphan girls in 1914, now serves as a retreat house.

The 22-foot statue of Jesus, which stands on the highest point of the 900-acre site and serves as a landmark for the shrine, is reached by a prayer path of 373 steps built in 1954. At the foot of the statue is an image of Christ’s Sacred Heart made with white stones by Mother Cabrini with help from her sisters and some of the orphan girls in 1912.

The original pump-house is now a charming museum about the saint and the 50-year-old main building housing the chapel, gift shop and convent is constantly busy with visitors.

In his years with the shrine, Tommy, with the help of many volunteers, has further beautified and enhanced the tranquility of the grounds with his landscaping skills.
“Not only does he take care of the grounds and buildings, but he designed and built all of our meditation and prayer gardens,” Seaman said. “He knows every inch of this place like the back of his hand.”

“Our sisters would not have been able to maintain this ministry without Tommy and his family, who worked for the sisters since the time of the orphanage,” said Missionary Sister Roselle Santivasi, noting that when she arrived to the shrine nine years ago, Tommy’s mother Elda, who died in 2012, was still a helpful presence at the shrine.

“Every Missionary Sister knows Tom Francis and his family,” declared Sister Roselle. “Our whole ministry here was so dependent on Tommy and his family and continues to be. They are a large part of why the [shrine] mission has succeeded and has brought the presence of God to so many people.”

A widower for 27 years as he raised two daughters after losing his wife to cancer, Tommy met his current wife Sarah, a speech therapist, in 2005 when she moved to the shrine from Green Bay, Wis., as a Cabrini Mission Corps lay volunteer. The couple will mark their 10th wedding anniversary in March.

Sarah is just one of the blessings Mother Cabrini has brought Tommy as he labors at her shrine.

“You can feel a connection with Mother Cabrini here — you can feel her presence,” Tommy asserted. “Even though we no longer have orphans, about 50 percent of our visitors are immigrants who have great devotion to Mother Cabrini. The sisters still work with the poor and it’s still the Cabrini vision to spread God’s love through the world.”

The shrine remains a prayerful place of pilgrimage to foster one’s relationship with Christ, whether for a day or for a longer formal retreat. Tommy said he loves his work and plans to go on keeping the shrine vibrant.

“Since my dad started working for the sisters in 1930, it’s my goal to continue working to 2030 so we can have 100 [consecutive] years of service to St. Frances Cabrini in Denver,” he said, not satisfied with the 104 combined years they’ve already given. “The shrine is a wonderful place to be. It’s blessing after blessing here.”