This year brings an interesting and unusual confluence of dates: for the first time since 1945, Ash Wednesday falls on February 14 and thus on St. Valentine’s Day. For many the saint is overlooked, and the celebration is entirely about love and friendship. This year both the saint and the celebration of earthly love will be subdued beneath the ashes of Lent.
Perhaps we can take a cue from the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day as a pathway through Lent this year. Wallets are opened widely—to give the beloved a special gift. Words are spoken freely—to warm the heart. Finally, love is celebrated with a shared meal.
Almost everything ever written on the subject of love indicates that at the heart of love is the spirit of giving. A gift is something you can hold in your hand and say, “Look, he was thinking of me,” or “She remembered me.” You must be thinking of someone to give him or her a gift. The gift itself is a visible symbol of that thought.
Giving to those in need is a visible expression of our love for God and neighbor. A traditional practice of Lent, almsgiving teaches us to separate ourselves from material possessions. By giving freely, we learn to trust God more deeply for our own daily needs. There is a liberality to almsgiving that makes it quite radical, cutting to the root of our sinful attachments. It says, “All I need is love,” and so I can give until it hurts—a true sacrifice.
Words of Love
The Catholic spiritual masters all agree on the essence of prayer. “Prayer is conversation with God,” said St. Clement of Alexandria in the early third century. St. Teresa of Avila defined prayer as:
nothing else than an intimate friendship, a frequent heart-to-heart conversation with Him by whom we know ourselves to be loved.
When we love, we want to be with and talk to the one we love. Prayer is the language we use for that conversation with God. In prayer, we reveal our heart to the Heart of the Beloved. We convey to Him our needs, our silence, and our time, so that he may bind our hearts closer to His.
Time is a precious commodity. We all have multiple demands on our time, yet each of us has the exact same hours in a day. We can make the most of those hours by committing some of them to the Beloved. He simply wants you, being with Him, spending time in conversation.
Do you struggle with finding a connection with God in prayer—one in which you feel you are truly communicating intimately with His loving presence and hearing His voice in your heart? Try Jesus on the Cross, a guided meditation into deep prayer especially recommended for Lenten reflection.
Sharing a Meal
Fasting is another traditional practice associated with Lent—skipped meals and the limitation of usual pleasures. Perhaps this Lent we could think of fasting not so much as a penance, but as an opportunity to “share” a meal with the Beloved. When we fast, we experience hunger, which can also awaken us to the hunger for God deep in the human heart—a hunger often unnoticed when we are full of the world’s goods.
We can satisfy this hunger by sharing a meal with the Beloved in the celebration of the Eucharist. In every culture, sharing a meal with someone is a way of expressing and deepening a relational bond. The Eucharist does this in a way no other meal can. We eat with the Beloved, He gives Himself as our food, and we’re transformed into Him. When we receive Him and consume Him under the signs of bread and wine, we become Him in a unique intimacy.
Ultimately, Lenten love is sacrificial love. In perfect sacrifice, Christ gave all of Himself to us on the cross. The Lenten season helps us to know this love more deeply, and to return it more fully. Lent should be a time to fall deeper in love with Christ. May this Lent be a Lent of Love for each of us.
St. Valentine, pray for us.
© 2018 Maria Vickroy-Peralta. Image: Public Domain.