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Ladislaus L D'Souza Ladislaus L D'Souza
12 Feb 2024

Saint Valentine was a third-century Roman Priest-Martyr whose name has long been associated with courtly love. "Valentine" derives from valens (worthy, strong, powerful). Valentine's Day as a lovers' fest dates back to at least the 14th century, its origin legendarily stemming from two interesting instances: a letter he is said to have signed as "Your Valentine" to his gaoler's daughter whom he had befriended and healed of blindness. Next, true to his name, in defiance of the emperor's orders, he is believed to have secretly married young lovers to spare the husbands from being drafted into the army. Suffice it to say then that love is a matter of the heart, and Valentine's Day is a matter of the heart! This brings us to Ash Wednesday and the ensuing Season of Lent.

A refreshing link . . .

The First Reading for Ash Wednesday annually exhorts: "Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…." (Joel 2:13). However, the significance of this scripture is heightened this year by the fact that Ash Wednesday coincides with Valentine's Day. And with good reason, too! For we think with the intellect but love with the heart. Yet, isn't it the heart that rules the mind? Lent is that time of the year when we analyse and check whether our minds and hearts are in sync with each other as far as our lives as believers are concerned. Aptly then, Ash Wednesday-cum-Valentines' Day 2024 invites us to rend our hearts rather than our garments with the sole purpose of allowing the Lord to rid us of hearts of stone - and how! In Ezekiel 36:26-27 He says: "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh." O yes – it'd help to remember that God is faithful to His promises.

Annual Stocktaking - Lent is the time of the Church's Liturgical year when we take stock of our lives to check how closely our lives resemble the life of Jesus and that of his mother, Mary. If Advent is a time for preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus at Christmas and at end-time, Lent is a time to check where we are going at the end of our sojourn on earth. While our dioceses, parishes, and religious communities would be doing their bit to help bring about a meaningful observance of Lent, we must do our part conscientiously, too.

Lent is that time of the year when we look back on our interpersonal relations, starting with relationships in the family, for that is indeed where the heart is nurtured to maturity. Home, the family – the place that ought to be like God who is "abounding in love"; the little heaven on earth where Valentine's Day finds its true meaning before we find meaning in it anywhere else. How deep are our spousal, sibling and parental relationships? Do our family relationships help build our neighbourly relationships? And do these relationships overflow into bonds of love with friends, fiancés and fiancées? In the given context, sibling assertions like "We are one! No one can come in the way of the bond we share, not our husbands or wives or in-laws, not even our children!" are an affront to the matrimonial bond.

Lent is that period when Ash Wednesday initiates a self-introspection that reveals whether we are guilty of two-timing our spouse, shamelessly accompanying an office colleague to the doctor's when one's own spouse is recuperating at home after an extended stay in hospital, or brazenly encouraging someone in the family to carry on a 'handbag' relationship—an extra-marital affair in the name of 'close friends' or whatever, causing a rift, sowing seeds of suspicion and disunity in a marriage. That's but an act of defiance to the spirit of Valentine's Day. And so, this Valentine's Day, Ash Wednesday challenges us to rend our hearts in grief and repentance before we feign giving it to any Valentine.

The flipside & the upside - The difficulty with living our Catholic lives the Christian way is that we are so full of ourselves and of all that we think we are that we somehow tend to miss the tree for the wood, literally missing out on what we actually are. Lent is not merely about attending an annual retreat and indulging in all things pious and holy. Nay! We may have ourselves Taborised month after month, or Pottafied or Mooringoorised or Vailankannised or perhaps Logossified year after year; or we may have even made the rounds of the Holy Land, the Eternal City, Assisi, Fatima, Lourdes, Medjugorje or whatever. But if the heart of Jesus is not in us, we've missed the point of Valentine's Day and, as a result, missing the very essence not only of Ash Wednesday but of the very Season of Lent per se. If Mary's advice to "do whatever he (her Son) tells" (cf John 2:5) us to do is not heeded, we are wasting our precious time, energy and money on actually making peoples' lives miserable at the cost of the peace of our own minds.

A new perspective

For a change, can we look at Valentine's Day '24 from a 'heart-change' perspective? That will enable us to seize the commencement of Lent with Ash Wednesday as a truly God-given opportunity to take the bold step needed to rid ourselves of all that is not of Jesus. That alone will pull us back from the precipice of a life lived on the edge rather than a life closely resembling those of two of the greatest Valentines that ever walked the earth, viz Jesus, Heart of Hearts and King of Hearts, and Mary, the Queen of our Saviour's heart and of that of every believer!


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