February 14, 2024: A Christian Dilemma? – OpEd


Ash Wednesday 2024 falls on February 14, Valentine’s Day, which is sacred for lovers, the most romantic day of the year that encourages luxurious indulgences. On the other hand, Ash Wednesday is a holy day in the Catholic Calendar, the start of the liturgical 40-day season of Lent that requires fasting and abstinence.

Filipino Catholics in general observe Ash Wednesday and celebrate Valentine’s Day in a family and/or wholesome way. However, a Christian dilemma still exists for some passionate lovers, thus turning February 14, 2024 into a spiritual warfare, bound to test the Filipino Catholic’s priorities.

The normal in the country is this: Motels are fully booked on Valentine’s Day, given that 90 percent of the Philippine population is Christian and about 79 percent are Catholics.

In Saudi Arabia, the sale of flowers and greeting cards on Valentine’s Day is forbidden. In fact, the Muslim State does not allow the celebration of Valentine’s Day at all. The Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has ordered florists and store owners to remove any red or heart shaped Valentine’s Day paraphernalia from their shops because the State authorities believe that the highly commercialized February 14 promotes premarital sex and alcohol consumption.

Now, compare this with what goes on in the Philippines, which observers describe as a conservative society. We see commercialized dinners for two, bouquets of colorful flowers, and fully booked motels.

“Yes, walk-in clients have been continuously coming since February 12,” said Sallie Perez, manager of Marle Hotel in Cavite. “Business has picked up after Covid,” she added.

As part of the motel industry, Marle Hotel specializes in “very private” walk-in customers and discreet reservations, especially during February, or “lovers month.” In the Philippines, motel carries a bad connotation.

In the United States, where the word originated, “motel” is coined from “motor hotel,” which is a type of hotel without a central lobby designed for motorists, usually having each room entered directly from the parking area for motor vehicles.

In this predominantly Catholic nation, Valentine’s Day is spent with married couples and legit partners. But the days before and the day after are reserved for “other lovers,” paramours, and concubines. This situation makes February hugely profitable for the motel industry.

Love songs top the music charts as most Filipinos celebrate Valentine’s Day in a pink, red, and white rampage of roses and hearts, with heavy emphasis on marriage, family, and having babies.

But despite 500 years of Christianity (YOC) and the deep Catholic devotion to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, extramarital affairs are widespread in the Philippines, where a macho culture still dominates that tolerates men to father several families and where there is no divorce law.

Sociologists say extramarital involvement refers to a wide range of behaviors practiced outside of the traditional marriage that could range from a one-time actual intercourse to a long-term concubine relationship.

In general, many Filipinos celebrate Valentine’s Day in the most discreet way in motels, such as at Marle in Cavite and at Victoria Court in Metro Manila and Pampanga. Who doesn’t recognize the logo of the 10 drive-in hotels of Victoria Court that depicts a classy but mysterious-looking lady with a finger over her lips on a background of black and silver? It’s obvious that the logo is intended to embody a secret.

In the motel business, thousands of rooms of all sizes are fully occupied by legit couples, young lovers, and what Filipinos jokingly refer to as clients with “Number Two or Number Three.”

During the “lover’s month,” extramarital affairs continue in this largely Christian country, the Pearl of the Orient, a “noble nation that now stands among the great Catholic nations in the entire world,” according to Pope Francis (2018 Letter on the Anniversary of the Manila Cathedral).

Truly, after 500 YOC, the effective and dynamic way of evangelization and Christian conversion remains a challenge.

Dr Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano

Dr. José Mario Bautista Maximiano is the lead convenor of the Love Our Pope Movement (LOPM) International. Jose Mario Bautista Maximiano, based in the Philippines capital Manila, is a Catholic scholar, public educator and columnist. He is author of the three-volume work on the Chronological and Thematic Essays: 500 Years of Christianity in the Philippines.

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