This year Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day coincide. Just a coincidence? I doubt it.
As the Catechism reminds us, “The witness of Scripture is unanimous that the solicitude of divine providence is concrete and immediate; God cares for all, from the least things to the great events of the world and its history” (CCC 303). So nothing is random with God. What is His message for us today? He is hoping to receive a Valentine from each one of us. I am not making this up. We are all familiar with how Valentine’s Day gifts use hearts – a heart on a card, a candy in the shape of a heart, roses the color of blood to symbolize the depths of one’s passionate love… It’s all about the heart. And that’s how the liturgy for this first day of Lent begins. The Lord tells us: “…return to me with your whole heart…” (Joel 2:12).
Do you hear the Lord’s plea? He doesn’t want us seeking our happiness where it can’t be found! He doesn’t want us investing our love in things that end up perishing like ashes – passing pleasures, popularity and the approval of others, wealth and worldly success and the “right” car or home or promotion. When we make those things into idols, when we think that the meaning of our lives will come from them, we end up making a lot of bad decisions. We end up acting like little kids who get mesmerized by shiny but worthless toys. We give room in our lives to the voice of the tempter, the deceiver, the liar who wants to lead us away from our Father who “sees what is hidden” and is so passionately yearning to pour out his grace into our hearts. Lent is an invitation from the Church for us to stop, quiet down, and look calmly and deeply at the state of our hearts. Fasting, almsgiving, and prayer are tools that God gives us to help that happen.
So, on this Valentine’s Day, this Ash Wednesday, we can reflect prayerfully on who or what we are really giving our hearts to, and how the Lord feels about that.
Fr. John Bartunek, LC, author and Creative Director at RCSpirituality.org, an online resource providing faith formation and online retreats.