A few days ago, I visited the Fides Website where I watched one of my directors, Rev Fr Obinna Dike on Youtube explaining the true meaning of lent and I was completely bowled over. He explained it in a way I had never heard it taught before. Perhaps that was what spurred me into going out there to talk to people about this very significant feast of the Catholic Church which interestingly, has fallen on same date as Valentine Day. I found the views of five men who are actively serving the present government of Anambra state in different capacities very educative, informative and enriching. Hear them:
Arc. Michael Okonkwo
Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (ACTDA)
Sir, it's Valentine's Day today and it's also Ash Wednesday. What does it mean to you and how do you intend to celebrate yours?
It's worth celebrating. First of all, I wish everybody God's love because it's Val's day. And then, because it is the beginning of Lenten period, I join everybody to beg God for forgiveness because we have all sinned. So, on the one hand, we love and on the other hand we ask God for forgiveness.
Okay. There are so many young people out there who believe that even though today is Ash Wednesday, they still have to do what they have to do. What's your advice to them?
My advice to them is, do with care maka na asi na onye nyere onwe ya aka, chi ya enyere ya. Don't say because it's Ash Wednesday, we will be forgiven by God, then you'll start acting irresponsibly. Take care first, give thanks to God and then, love people for real. Don't mistake love for infatuation. True love is the basic!
Senior Special Assistant, Media
Anambra State Government
Today is Valentine Day cum Ash Wednesday. How do you think people should spend these two days that have been merged by nature?
Well, I think the day, as it were, was actually designed from realms beyond us which also, is one way of reminding us that the valentine day celebration is one of those very important gifts that the Catholic Church gave to the world. If you realize that St Valentine was a Catholic priest as it were and we're marking the Ash Wednesday which is one of those important observances of the Catholic Church, you realize that the two events we're celebrating came from the Catholic Church. They are from the same source. In fact, they are not mutually exclusive. They are intertwined. I listened to someone today say that in the word 'Valentine', there is Lent. This is a signification of the Lenten season as it were which is the commencement of the preparation of the Catholics and other Christians for Easter, symbolizing the supreme sacrifice that the Lord Jesus Christ made for His Church and for his people. Are they different and is there a division and can we put a knife between Valentine and Ash Wednesday? No! For me, I think that what is best for any reasonable adult to do would be to spend the day reaching out to people in love. Perform one act of love. Charity is a very important act of love. Give without expecting anything in return. In any case, don't give to people who have the capacity to pay you back. The notion that the Valentine's day is the day you spend with people you're romantically tied with is almost old school now because some people use the opportunity that Val's day offers to go to charity and reach out to motherless babies, old people's homes and the needy by showing them an act of love. It is a day that humanity is expected to rise, show and demonstrate love to one another. That to me is what it means and not just romance and falling in love.
Nze Uche Nworah
Anambra Broadcasting Service (ABS)
Sir, the Ash Wednesday of 2018 has fallen on same date as the Valentine Day. What's your take on this 'merger' done by nature?
Well, to me, it's another beautiful day that the Lord has made and we have to rejoice and be glad in it. I went for the 6am mass this morning and my Rev Fr, Fr Hyacinth Okafor said something that really got me thinking. He said that the so called 'merger' of Ash Wednesday and Val's day, if I have to use your language is actually a way of God telling us something. He said that if you spell Valentine, there is LENT within Valentine. There was also a verse in the bible that he used in the homily this morning that God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son to die for our sins. So, what that means is, we're talking about Valentine. We're also talking about love and sacrifice. You can't have love without sacrifice. So, the day reminds us that we have to care for people around us, our family, loved ones, even the less privileged in our society. It's a day to show care and accept that we are human beings. In spite of all our frailties, we have to watch out for each other. You look out for me, I look out for you. As you can see, I have my ash on my forehead and I am at work.
What's your advice for the youth out there today?
My advice to them is that there should be some moderation in what they do. While we were growing up, some of the things I see happening now wasn't like that in our days. In our days, we used to be very afraid, for example, I remember that when I was younger in secondary school, and even in the university, you have all these parties and you want to attend them, you will have to come home but before you drive your father's car, you do the plan for one month. You know, how you're going to steal your father's car to go to your party but today's day and age, these kids are not even stealing cars anymore. They are buying the cars. So, you ask yourself, how can a young kid that's 21/22 afford to buy all these cars? So, there should be moderation. We live in an era, generation and age where, like Ndigbo would say, there is 'oke ochicho'. Young people don't respect the elderly anymore. Part of what helped us out in life when we were growing was, no matter how rich or influential you are in society you have to appreciate those that came before you. I think they should take it easy. They should slow down. My former boss, Otunba Michael Adenuga, the Chairman of Globacom used to say, 'Slow down, young man. If you don't slow down, I'll slow you down'. The youth should know that if they don't slow down, God will slow them down.
Anambra State Signage and Advertisement Agency
What does Valentine's Day mean to you?
Honestly, I'm one of the people who are very very confused about what this Valentine day is all about, really. I'm happy today is Ash Wednesday, so I can buy into the Valentine day with the Ash Wednesday. Somebody said that all iniquities are committed on Valentine day. I'm happy that today is also Ash Wednesday so that most Christians who want to observe the Valentine day will remember that today is the beginning of the Lenten period. They should learn to go to God and shower their love. To me, all the stories I have heard about St Valentine point to the fact that he was a martyr who died for God and for love. So, we should celebrate it even though I am not the celebration type. My family sometimes, make me take them out for dinner, but all these red and white people mean nothing to me. In fact when I wanted to wear my tie this morning, I realized it was red, so I quickly removed it and changed it to blue so that nobody will associate me with anything that is called Valentine. So, that is it. If it's love, let it be Agape love. Show love to the less privileged and the people who are not endowed with what you have instead of people going hand in hand from one room to the other. I don't think that is the essence of what it is all about. So, to me, I think Ash Wednesday takes it all. God is speaking to us, that this Valentine day you people are messing up, please change your mind and do something better than that.
So, what will you do with your family today?
Unfortunately for me, my family is in Lagos. I chose not to go for Mass this morning. I want to attend Mass in the evening so that from there, I will go straight home so that nobody will tell me anything about going out for Valentine and all that.
Senior Special Assistant, Media
Anambra State Government
What do you think about Ash Wednesday and Valentine Day being merged together by nature for the first time in our era?
I think it's just a calendar thing. It is not unusual. There's actually a nexus between Valentine day and Ash Wednesday. One calls for abstinence while the other one calls for celebration and love, but the thing is that, for those who understand the history of the two celebrations, it is a Valentine day which is in memory of St Valentine if you go back to the medieval times and how Valentine came to be regarded for representing love in time of adversity and dictatorship. He was able to show love to those who really needed it. He wedded couples in spite of what the law said and died for the cause of love. It's just a memorable day in history and of course, if you know that the pope willed it that he be remembered on this special day, you'll also discover that it is also one of the cardinal observances of the Catholic Church. Then, Ash Wednesday, which commemorates the beginning of the Lenten season, especially for Catholics reminds us that we are humans who must return to dust. An aspect of the celebration of life of every Christian that reminds you that it is a sober moment, but I think the confusion comes because of the time and perception of certain people. A difference between what you might call in the Christian parlance, 'Agape' love as regards to hedonism that is associated with Valentine. Commercialization of everything has become in such a way that commercial people who are seeking for where to earn extra pay has put a spin on Valentine. That will make it possible for certain aspects of human life to impact on it. What am I saying? You celebrate. People who have things to offer that you need to celebrate with have to sell their wares. Therefore, they tweaked it. You sell your drinks, cakes, flowers and gift items. Of course, these are ornaments that you use to celebrate love. And because hedonism has entered the lexicon of Valentine Day celebration, some people wonder if it's wrong for it to be associated with Ash Wednesday? There's really nothing wrong with it. It's a personal commitment. Which one do you make? Do you do it the right way or do you play to the gallery?
Dear readers, I was truly enriched after my encounter with these gentlemen. It really is a matter of personal commitment like Mr Ozumba pointed out. Lent doesn't end after having ash rubbed on our foreheads. It lasts through the next forty days. Let's all try and climb that mountain with our Lord Jesus while bearing in mind that we can't do it without the three major tools pointed out by Fr Obi. They are Fasting, Abstinence and Almsgiving. Good luck to us all!!!