It’s not hard to miss the fact, if you’ve been in any store since roughly the day after Christmas, that today is the next religious-turned-secular feast of Valentine’s Day (or St. Valentine’s Day as we might say in the “old” days). Not coincidently, today is the culmination of the week-long World Marriage Week, known as National Marriage Day – created and sponsored by Catholic Marriage Encounter and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops – it is always the second Sunday of February and is dedicated to celebrating the gift and blessing of married love. This year it coincides directly with Valentine’s Day itself. However, neither is the true “feast” we actually celebrate liturgically for today is the First Sunday of Lent – a day when we hear the all-too-familiar story of Jesus in the dessert, battling against not only the struggle of a 40 day fast, but against Satan himself. The scene of today’s celebration is one that portrays anything but the cushy, idyllic notion of romantic love that we normally think of when February 14th rolls around. The idea of Lenten LOVE may just be one of those “biblical paradoxes” scripture is full of – you know like “the first shall be last” and the idea that “if you want to gain you life, you must first lose it” – a paradox is something that sounds contradictory or logically unacceptable but after investigation may prove to be well-founded. Lenten Love may be just such a notion.
We know of Lent as a time of sacrifice, of deep prayer, a time to fast and abstain from the things we like, to give alms to the poor, to act with mercy and forgiveness, a time that is a call to self-mortification to atone for our sins and connect intimately with the dessert journey of our Lord who was preparing himself for the suffering and death that lie ahead of him in Jerusalem. This is the WHAT of LENT. And it doesn’t sound anything like love….or does it. It won’t if we focus on the WHAT, but if we explore the WHY of Lent we may find the Lenten Paradox of Love is truly well-founded indeed.
The first WHY is found in arguably the most familiar of bible passages known as John 3:16:
“For God so LOVED the world that he gave his only son that whoever should believe in him would not die but have eternal life.”
Here is the living witness of love that is self-sacrificial. It is not the love of a Valentine’s Day card but rather is the epitome of love defined. A love so great that if gives all for the sake of another. It is not the definition that we normally look to in our notion of love but it is the very essence of Lenten Love.
WHY number two: Love is not only from God but I John 4:8 tells us that “God IS love.” Whatever our idea of what God is – mystical, universal judge; Creator; the image of Eternal Father – the greatest of Christian understanding is that God is LOVE. I know that we “know” that but I also know that God is not the first image that comes to mind when we think of love on Valentine’s Day, National Marriage Day or probably any other day. This Lenten day is proposing maybe it should.
WHY number three is the further Christian understanding that we are able to love at all because God has first loved us (again from 1 John 4:19). In other words, our very capacity TO love comes from God first loving us. A capacity within ourselves that is susceptible to being diminished and even eradicated when we allow the “stuff” of the world to disconnect it with the love that has come to us from God. In countless ways we can allow hate, envy, lust, etc. to interfere with our knowledge and reception of God’s love for us – the real reason we need Lent in the first place.
Lenten Love is not a paradox but rather the very purpose of Lent itself is to find our first love again – the love that IS God.
We have been talking a lot on campus about what I have dubbed “#LentenRevolution.” (If you want to be hip these days you have to add a ‘hash-tag’ to whatever your talking about – I don’t know why.) But hash-tag aside the idea of Lent being a revolution is about the opportunity for the radical change Lent offers us – an opportunity to reconnect with the love that God has for us – a love that literally has sacrificed himself through his son for our sake and who is the very LOVE personified that we seek and who gives us the capacity to love each other. When the WHY of Lent overshadows the WHAT of Lent we will allow the LentenRevolution to change us and bring us back to where we called to be – where we need to be. In other words when it comes to Lent, let us not be so focused on what we are giving up, we can’t see what God is giving us – and that would be a whole heaping mess of LOVE.
Lenten Love is not a paradox but is its’ very purpose.
So, by all means Happy Valentine’s Day, and
Happy National Marriage Day
Most importantly, Happy #LentenRevolution
+ Dcn. Tom
14 February 2016