February 14, 2018
Ash Wednesday and Valentines Day fall on the same day this year.
This has created a big debate: which is more important?
Should you celebrate Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday?
I don’t think there is a conflict.
Valentine’s Day has to do with love and, believe it or not,
so does Ash Wednesday. In fact, I argue
Ash Wednesday will make you a better lover.
Let me explain.
Over the centuries the people of the covenant
have found three practices that strengthen loving.
They have been carefully saved and are passed on to us
every Ash Wednesday as prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
I’m going to spend just a moment on each.
Prayer is the time when we raise our hearts and minds
out of ourselves and up to God.
It is a time when I stop my constant attention to me
and attend to God.
It is a time when we make ourselves listen to God.
God speaks to us only of his love,
Invites us to live in his love,
calls us constantly to allow ourselves to be loved
by the One who made us.
The whole world needs to hear more about Love,
no one ever hears enough of how important they are,
how loved they are.
We have to work very hard to get any attention at all.
In prayer we are told just the opposite.
When we pray, we are told, God listens to every word.
When we pray, we are told, we have the attention
of the Creator of the world.
When we pray, we are told, God has nothing better to do
than to attend to us,
to be present to us over and over again.
Satan, however, is very clever,
and whenever we pray Satan is paying close attention to us.
In fact, the very first thing Satan does is to convince us
that the praying is about us;
praying is all about what we need and what we want
and can be measured by how it makes us feel,
so if I do not get what I want
and praying does not make me feel good
there is no use in me praying at all.
But prayer is not about us, it is about God.
It is about believing that no matter where we are,
and no matter how we feel,
we can always place ourselves in the presence of
the God who loves us, attends to us,
and promises never to leave us alone.
Praying is practicing the presence of God in our lives.
If he cannot keep us from loving
Satan would tempt us to believe
that the amount of love allotted to us is limited
so me must conserve it, use it sparingly
lest we run out and be forced to live without it.
Almsgiving is a reminder that love
is something we give away to those who need it.
It is not something that we keep in reserve for ourselves,
or share exclusively with our friends.
It is not something that we offer only
when someone knocks on our door;
it is something that we seek to give.
We are to seek out those in need
to offer what consolation and assistance we can.
It is not just money,
although for those who are poverty stricken
money is a good form of alms.
It is also the application of our expertise and ability
where it is needed.
It is basic kindness,
and our attention
and perhaps most importantly, the gift of our time.
Alms-giving is not measured
by the amount or type of gifts given,
but by our availability
to give away the love that God has freely given us.
The value of fasting
does not rest in what we deny ourselves
or the amount of weight we lose.
Fasting, self-denial, is not a good in and of itself.
No amount of fasting will feed the people in Africa,
only the gift of alms will do that.
What fasting does is remind us
that we cannot find happiness by ourselves.
There is no store where one can buy happiness.
Happiness can be found only by sharing ourselves,
and the sharing of ourselves involves pain.
Time and time again we are reminded
that loving brings pain,
So, Satan whispers, if you are going to do it at all,
do so carefully, making sure that you will not be hurt.
After all, look what happened to Jesus.
If there is a God at all,
why did God allow Jesus to suffer pain?
Why does God allow you to suffer?
Love is too dangerous to practice —
control, lust and possession are far more realistic practices
for human beings to engage.
This is an insidious and convincing temptation.
Fasting is how we combat this particular temptation,
fasting is simply a reminder to us of our belief
that it is only by giving that we receive,
and only in our willingness to love until we die
that we find eternal life.
Fasting reminds us of our pledge.
It is simply a pledge that we will suffer the wounds of love
and so come to live in love forever.
A Lent of prayer, almsgiving and fasting
actually makes us better lovers
and sweeter Valentines.