It is unusual to have Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, fall on February 14th, Valentine’s Day. This conjunction of these two days may, at first sight, seem to be a bit odd. I believe, with deeper reflection, there is a nuance to Lent that is revealed through the celebration of Valentine’s Day!
To begin the discipline of carefully, thoughtfully and honestly looking at ourselves and the way we live life is a truly loving act. In loving the real truth about ourselves we are encouraged and emboldened to seek out, understand and discard whatever is inconsistent with that truth. This life-changing process which we dedicate ourselves to during the season of Lent can lead not only to the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus but to the “rising” of our own deepest truths to be lived out in creative and loving ways. It is here that Lent and Valentine’s Day join in a common goal, again. As our truest selves are recognized and honored we come to a profound understanding that we are to be lovers! We are to love passionately and selflessly the world in which we live, the people who inhabit it, and the God who is love itself…infinitely creative, infinitely selfless.
I chose the image of the person seated in a desert to give us some guidance as we prepare for a meaningful use of this Lenten season. The reason is rooted in Jesus’ own experience as recorded in Mark’s Gospel…
It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” At once the Spirit drove him out into the desert, and he remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan.
Jesus, at the Jordan River, hears and sees the full truth about himself, about God…about everything. He has heard and seen these things in the context of the preceding 30 years. Who is he…really? All that he had learned during those 30 years or what is revealed at the Jordan? He is driven into the desert to personally resolve this dilemma. Satan, which means an accuser, continually challenges the truthfulness of what transpired at the Jordan. Each time, in what must have been a profound struggle, Jesus chooses the truth…the truth of the Jordan. He leaves the desert, deserts his old way of life and begins a ministry devoted to each person discovering the full truth of who they are before God.
This is our task during Lent. We enter into the desert…we withdraw from our ordinary lives; we seek quiet and stillness so that deeper things within our hearts and spirits can be heard. As we gain insight into the love that is the foundation of who we are and how we are to live accusations arise that challenge this. These accusations often are the voices of regrets, failures, rejections, disappointments, etc. As we successfully dismiss each of the accusations the strength of our true identity emerges. Like Jesus we leave our Lenten desert changed with a real and joyful sense of the mission that awaits us. To love! Simply, to love!
Fr. Ray Chase