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Since my wife Sara and I fast on Ash Wednesday, we decided to celebrate Valentine’s Day together last night.  We combined it with Mardi Gras and pigged out on pancakes and maple syrup in the spirit of celebrating and renewing our love for each other.  As the Fat Tuesday tradition goes, we feast and celebrate and use up ingredients that we will put away for the great fast of Lent.  Today we won’t be sharing in any of the chocolates, red wine or cinnamon hearts as many will on Valentine’s.  But this got me thinking - what if there is something to learn by having Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s on the same day?

  Let’s begin by examining some aspects of Ash Wednesday. 

The ashes we receive on our forehead point us back to “the beginning” as found in the book of Genesis.  After five days of creation: The LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life (Gen 2:7).  Dust and ashes remind us of our infinite poverty - our profound nothingness without God’s creative life.  God, in His goodness, gave us our very breath of life.  Then came the fall.  After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve suffered guilt and shame: The man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Gen 3:8).  A time of great peace and joy between God and humanity came to an end and has had a ripple effect ever since.  What began as a breakup between a man, a woman and their Creator grew as a little spark can light up a whole forest.  Herein lies the second lesson in the ashes of today’s feast: we can burn down our relationship with God through our sin.  

Fr. Raneiro Cantelamessa: The world is afraid of many things: atmospheric pollution, incurable diseases, nuclear war, but it does not fear sin which is open war waged against God, the eternal, the omnipotent.  The destructive power of one sin is unfathomable.  St. Paul lists the various sin patterns of our fallen flesh: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like (Gal 5:19-21).  Despite sin’s myriad forms, they all have the same root and yield the same result: distance from our good and loving God.  Yet no matter how great our sin, God’s mercy is even greater.  

God goes looking for his beloved.  He seeks after the embarrassed Adam and Eve.  God asks in Genesis 3:9: Where are you?  God wants to bring them back.  God wants to bring life out of dust.  He can and he will, if only we would ask.  God can redeem.  God can restore.  You give him sin, he gives you grace.  You give him brokenness, he gives you wholeness.  You give him your empty heart, he gives you His Sacred Heart.  Scripture says God will give beauty for ashes (Is 61:3).  

For centuries after the great fall, God spoke of a great saviour who would come to restore the brokenness.  But no one could have foretold how great this Messiah would be.  In the fullness of time God sent his only Son into the world - the one who is called Bridegroom (Jn 3:29).  Not only did God restore this broken relationship - he raised it higher than ever before.  What was a relationship between Creator and creature opened up in Christ to become one of Bridegroom and Bride?  

Maybe this is what the Holy Spirit is saying to us on this Valentine’s Ash Wednesday: God wants to marry you.  All the chocolates, candle-lit dinners and slow dances of Valentine’s Day point beyond this world into a deeper and higher reality: the wedding feast of the Lamb (Rev. 19:9).  Ephesians 5:25: Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.  While the longing in our hearts for romance is good and beautiful, it is only a foretaste of the love which will consume us in the world to come.  Just as a husband promises to give himself freely, totally, faithfully and fruitfully to his wife and she to him, so the Lord promises to give himself to you.  

Take some time today to reflect on the marital invitation Christ offers you - not only does he want you at his wedding, he wants you to be the one he marries.  Even though you and I have burned down our relationship with God through our sin and inherited brokenness from Adam and Eve, God has been and is restoring life, love and humanity.  What better way to begin this great season of Lent - forty days of preparation for the great event when Christ the Bridegroom will hang on the Cross for His Bride, and rise again to welcome her to share in His very life. 

Note:  It’s important to clarify in our hyper-sexualized culture that the marriage in Heaven scripture speaks of is not a sexual reality.  While our sexuality is very good and of God, it is only a sign of something even greater to come.  The marriage of Christ and the Church will be infinitely greater than it’s earthly sign.  However earthly marriage is one of the closest images we have to understand how much God loves us, how intimately he wants us, and how great the communion of Christ and the Church will be in the Kingdom.