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When Ash Wednesday fell on the same day as Valentine’s Day this year, many people found the coincidence amusing. People wondered how lovers would celebrate the day. Will they hold their celebration the weekend before or the weekend after Ash Wednesday? Some opined that Catholics would forego romantic expression on Ash Wednesday while others guessed that Catholics would forego their religion in the name of love!

Thinking about this happy coincidence, as Christians, we can really find a natural affinity between the two celebrations. Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, is really a reminder to us of the greatest love of all. Valentine’s Day, festival of lovers, is actually the right moment to consider the act of perfect love, the true offering of self, and the practice of sacrifice symbolized by the Cross of Jesus.

Lent is really God’s extended Valentine’s day. Our reading from Jeremiah 31 speaks of the covenant God established with his people. More than a formal agreement of belonging, fidelity, and solemn oaths between God and Israel, the covenant is about the heart. The Lord says: I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts… I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.” But for many of the Israelites, the covenant became binding as a legalistic and oppressive system, that turned a living faith into a religion of fear and judgment.

This Lent Jesus is asking for our hearts. Processions, devotions, pilgrimages, and traditions are indeed helpful. But they should not move us off track. The Lord speaks to our hearts and so we must respond with our hearts in prayer, sacrifice, and charitable deeds done out of love. For many Catholics Lent comes and goes as a season of practices and customs done externally and does not lead to charity and kindness to neighbor.

Before Holy Week comes, let us pray for a heightened sense of love for God as we pray, go to Confession, receive Communion, and participate in the sacred rites. Let us open our hearts to love of neighbor, especially the poor and suffering in our homes, offices, schools and communities, and reach out to them as if they were Jesus himself. Above all, let us allow God to love, forgive, and transform us. Let us feel the love!!!

By the way… Easter this year coincides with April Fool’s Day!!!