A student prays during an Ash Wednesday Mass March 2, 2022, at Stony Brook University in Stony Brook, N.Y. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Give God our hearts not Valentines

  • February 8, 2024

Ash Wednesday is on the horizon. While Catholics are getting ashes on our foreheads, much of the rest of the Western world will be buying chocolates and flowers. I don’t remember Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day previously. Google says the last time was in 1945, a little before my time.

It’s seemingly an odd conjunction, those two dates. Ash Wednesday opens a season of repentance. Valentine’s Day is the celebration of ooey, gooey puppy love. I gave Valentine cards to everyone in my class when I was a kid. Even to the girls.

Then, I got older, and that seemed childish. A little older than that, and I wished I had someone to whom I should give a Valentine. Then there were years when I did give a Valentine. But just one. Finally, I got married, and there has been a Valentine every year, not just for my wife but my four daughters as well. Now, they’ve left home, and my wife Nora gets my sole Valentine.

But really, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are not at odds with each other. We don’t repent because we’re full of shame and guilt. We repent because we love God, and God loves us. Our very nature is to seek unity with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God is love. The Trinity is love. Three divine persons beget each other eternally because love is not something you hold inside. It overflows so powerfully that first there is the Son. Then the love of Father and Son is so fruitful that out of their love is the Spirit.

This does not happen one thing after the other. The Father does not “create” the Son. Nor do the two persons “create” the Spirit. It is an eternal begetting which happens outside of our temporal frame of reference. We can only understand reality in terms of a temporal framework of past, present, future. The begetting of the persons of the Trinity happens in the eternal now.

Let’s not get lost in that. The key ingredient, the sole ingredient, is love. The Second Vatican Council said “our very high calling” is to discover the fullness of our humanity by accepting God’s love and loving others as God loves.

For humans, our sins and sinfulness block our loving. To be one with God, we first need to be freed from sin. We seek that freedom because we yearn for eternal unity with the divine. We too want to be part of the Trinity. Of course, that is impossible. But what happens is that the Father sent the Son to walk among us, to suffer as we suffer and to rejoice as we find joy.

Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we become God’s adopted children. Through Baptism into Christ’s death, we share in divine life. This is the great mystery of our existence. We are creatures whom the Spirit makes one with God.

It’s impossible to fathom this. So our hearts and minds get caught up in all sorts of trivia. Try to sit in your chair for 20 minutes just to let God be present. Don’t focus on anything. Just allow space for God. We cannot do it. All those crazy, superficial, bombastic desires and thoughts which monopolize our lives come crashing in. Let one thought go and another blasts its way into our consciousness.

We want to love God, and our minds become twisted with distractions. We could send God a Valentine, but that doesn’t seem like enough. After all, we owe everything to God. To offer a decent expression of our love, we must give God all of our heart. To do that, we need to shed all the things that stand in the way of our love — sins, distractions, vices. That is our repentance.

Yet the repentance doesn’t seem to last. We are soon distracted and sinful again. We can apologize for that, and God forgives us. But we are just human. So we go round and round in the cycle of repentance and love.

One thing rarely mentioned about St. Valentine is that he was a martyr. Martyrdom is a gift to those who love God with great intensity. The martyr shares as fully as humanly possible in Christ’s paschal sacrifice.

When Lent draws to a close, we too will share in Christ’s death and resurrection. We will have prepared to love to the extent we are humanly capable. Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine will have surrounded each other in embrace.

(Glen Argan writes his online column Epiphany at https://glenargan.substack.com.)

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