Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year. While many couples have decided to celebrate their love by going out for a romantic dinner earlier, over the past weekend, or on Mardi Gras, there is another solution sweeping social media:
For those who are more inclined to ‘marry’ the two events which share the calendar, and are willing to look a little more deeply at what our human love relationships and the beginning of lent have in common, the vistas are broader than it first seems.
Marriage, and other relationships based on real love are made of more than just candlelight, gourmet dinners, and chocolate. Lent is about more than fasting. Both are rooted in a love that is willing, in fact, committed, to self-sacrifice for the beloved.
No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
– John 13:15
What if, this Valentine’s Day, and this Lent, we looked past what we are giving up by fasting and abstinence, and instead, took the plunge to love our beloved as Christ loves us. A little less steak and chocolate, a lot more patience and forgiveness. Less presents, more presence. Giving less jewels but more joy.
“There is no greater love within a marriage and a family than for the spouses and children to lay down their lives for one another. This is the heart of the vocation of marriage, the heart of the call to become holy” -USCCB, Pastoral letter: Marriage: Love and Life in the Divine Plan
40 days of laying down our lives in love for Christ and for our beloved here on earth… 40 days of learning to love like God desires us to.
“If a person really loves another, that is, really desires the total good of the other person, then such a person is committed by the very nature of love to give of himself or of herself for the sake, the good, of that other person. Giving of oneself involves sacrifice; it means that I make the other person a priority; it demands dying to self in order to live for the other.” -Bishop of Arlington, Paul Loverde
What if we took this lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday/Valentines’ Day to recommit to our vocation- our path to holiness, our marriages, and relationships, in seeking the good of others with love, even when it costs us?
What if, by bringing the two days together, God is asking us to love more, and to love more like He does? If part of the lay vocation is to sanctify the secular world, then this only makes sense. We have a magnificent opportunity this Wednesday- to reclaim human love to be in the image and likeness of God’s love for us. It’s a chance to reset our selfish fantasies about love and reorder our expectations and commitments to be what they should be, a free and joyful self-giving for the good of the other.
What if we really took this radical plunge during Lent? Perhaps we would understand better the depth of Christ’s love as the bridegroom for us as his bride? Perhaps we would see God, the often overlooked “3rd person” in our marriages, more clearly?
“How can one love self without being selfish? How can one love others without losing self? The answer is: By loving both self and neighbor in God. It is His Love that makes us love both self and neighbor rightly.” ― Fulton J. Sheen, Three to Get Married
Perhaps our relationships would become richer and more precious to us, celebrated more deeply by loving sacrifice than by sharing steak and chocolates…
Speaking of chocolate (which is another of my loves) I recently had the double surprise of indulging not only in a delicious treat but in the strikingly wise poetry on the back of the wrapper… God is awesome in his generosity that way.
The full poem is:
Oh, No – Not E’en When First We Loved.
by Thomas Moore
Oh! no — not e’en when first we loved,
Wert thou as dear as now thou art;
Thy beauty then my senses moved,
But now thy virtues bind my heart.
What was but Passion’s sigh before,
Has since been turned to Reason’s vow;
And, though I then might love thee more,
Trust me, I love thee better now.
Although my heart in earlier youth
Might kindle with more wild desire,
Believe me, it has gained in truth
Much more than it has lost in fire.
The flame now warms my inmost core,
That then but sparkled o’er my brow;
And, though I seem’d to love thee more,
Yet, oh! I love thee better now.
This Ash Wednesday, and this whole Lent, let’s let God lead us and our marriages in a deeper and stronger love that discovers its true worth, and the depth of its fire and joy, in self-giving. And, 40 days later, may we rejoice in the triumph of resurrection of Christ over death, and in our relationships as well, even if Easter does fall on April Fool’s Day. God does have a sense of humor….