I think it is so fitting that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year. While the restaurants in town have been carefully crafting specialty seafood dishes for their Catholic patrons to enjoy on Wednesday (a day of fasting and abstinence!) I have been reflecting on what it means for the season of Lent, which culminates with the celebration of the Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday), to begin on a day when people will be either celebrating or bemoaning love, or what they think love is.
What do our 40 days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving have to do with a day devoted to love?
There is no greater expression of love than Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. As Christians, we don’t have to wonder if we are loved, or when we will find love, or wait for love to be proven to us. Love has found us. Love left the glory of Heaven, took on flesh and blood, shared in our struggles by living here on this earth, and then gave up His Body and Blood, first, in the gift of the Eucharist, and then on the Cross. Love has proven Himself true to us in this great Sacrifice.
Pope St. John Paul the Great proclaimed,
“Since the Cross of Christ is the sign of love and salvation, we should not be surprised that all true love requires sacrifice. Do not be afraid, then, when love makes demands. Do not be afraid when love requires sacrifice. Do not be afraid of the Cross of Christ.”
How often am I genuinely surprised by the ways I am asked to sacrifice out of love in my day-to-day life? How often do I let fear (of being vulnerable, of being taken advantage of, of giving more than I think I can or would like to, of not being in control, of setting my desires to the side) overwhelm my desire to love? I like to think I am brave in the face of sacrifices, and maybe I am when they are the planned, neat and tidy sacrifices I decide on for myself, but the unexpected, messy, unglamourous sacrifices that surround me in the daily living of my vocation, those are another story.
Each and every one of the 40 days of our Lenten journey should be devoted to love; each day is an opportunity to grow in a deeper understanding of Christ’s love for us and to learn how to love Him more fully through sacrifice. St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Franciscan Priest and Martyr of Auschwitz said, “The cross is the school of love.” It is at the foot of the Cross that we truly learn what it means to love and be loved.