AT FIRST GLANCE, the congruence of Valentine’s Day and the beginning of Lent seems, well, incongruent. The first is culturally associated with hearts and chocolates, the latter with fasting and spiritual examination. But it turns out that the two have some deep overlays. The Feast of St. Valentine honors a third-century bishop who defied the Roman emperor and married young couples in secret, for which he was imprisoned and later executed, and for which he is remembered as the patron saint of love.
Lent is more often associated with “the dark night of the soul,” the title of St. John of the Cross’ 16th-century essay and poem about spiritual doubt, mystical contemplation, and the journey of faith. But, as Sarah James explains in her column this month, quoting Barbara Brown Taylor, “For [John], the dark night is a love story, full of the painful joy of seeking the most elusive lover of all.” Both Valentine and John, who was also wrongfully imprisoned, stood up against abusive power on behalf of an ethos of love, as did many of the people highlighted in Randall Balmer’s and Kaeley McEvoy’s pieces on activist athletes. They stand as role models, for Lent and beyond.