On Wednesday, many Catholics around the south suburbs will face a conflict that hasn't cropped up since 1945. Ash Wednesday — a solemn day that starts the Lenten season leading up to Easter and is considered a time of sacrifice — will share the same day as Valentine's Day — a holiday known for celebrating romantic love through extravagance and excess.
This quirk of the calendar has put some Catholics in the bind of trying to decide how to stay faithful to both their religion and to a secular occasion with its own traditions that, while not be sacred, can still be taken very seriously. And instead of asking what would Jesus do, observants might also want to ask what would Casanova do, as the famous Italian lover also was a devout Catholic.
So what advice would local priests give any parishoners who were struggling with how to honor their faith and their beloved?
"Find the fanciest lobster joint you can, and go to it," jokes the Rev. Michael Trail, associate pastor at St. Damian Church in Oak Forest, referencing the practice of not eating meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent.
But Trail and other area clergy say Catholics don't need to choose between Ash Wednesday and Valentine's Day. The simple solution is that they can celebrate both, just not on the same day.
"If someone were to ask, I would tell them to do [Valentine's Day] on Thursday or another day," said the Rev. John Sponder of Frankfort's St. Anthony Catholic Church.
In fact, Sponder likened the Ash Wednesday vs. Valentine's Day conflict to another intersection of Lent and a secular holiday. Over the years, St. Patrick's Day has fallen on Friday during Lent, meaning Catholics shouldn't be indulging on corned beef during a day when they're not supposed to be eating meat.
On a deeper level, followers can use the shared day as a way strengthen their faith, said the Rev. James Finno, pastor at St. Stephen Deacon and Martyr in Tinley Park. If Valentine's Day is about celebrating a romantic relationship, then Ash Wednesday is about building up a relationship with Jesus Christ, he said. And like a romantic relationship, that's ongoing, he added.
"The spirit of Ash Wednesday is not just a one day thing," Finno said.
Trail agreed, saying the day can be used as a teaching moment and a way to reach young believers.
"These kinds of moments are great opportunities to renew our relationship with God in our lives," he said.
Catholics also shouldn't view the two days at odds with one another, Trail added. If anything, giving up a Valentine's Day steak dinner in order to properly observe Ash Wednesday goes to the core of what sacrificing for Lent is all about, he said.
Despite Valentine's Day traditionally being a big night for romantic dinners, Trail and Finno don't expect to see a drop off in attendance for evening services at their churches this year.
"There are certain days in the life of a church that will always be jam-packed," said Trail, who counts Ash Wednesday among those, along with Christmas and Easter Sunday.
Ash Wednesday Services
St. Damian Church, 5300 W. 155th St., Oak Forest: Mass is at 7 and 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Prayer services are at noon, 4 and 5:15 p.m.
St. Anthony Catholic Church, 7659 Sauk Trail, Frankfort: Mass is at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. Prayer services (with ashes) are at noon and 5 p.m.
St. Stephen Deacon and Martyr, 17500 S. 84th Ave., Tinley Park: Mass in English is at 8 a.m., noon and 6:30 p.m. Mass in Polish is at 7:30 p.m. Prayer services are at 7 a.m., 3:30 and 5 p.m.
Catholics celebrate Ash Wednesday in 2017 at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. (Photo by Scott Olson | Getty Images News | Getty Images)