The world’s celebration of Valentine’s Day is over, but people must remember that there are always 364 ‘other’ days in the year for us to continuously express and live out our love to those around us, especially to the One who made us.
Further around the bend of life’s journey, some 3 weeks later, the church will observe Ash Wednesday - the first day of the 40-day Lenten fast; a penitential period for us, pilgrims, to prepare for the joyous celebration of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; Easter.
Rev. Lawrence E. Mick shares with us that, “To prepare well for the day we die, we must die now to sin and rise to new life in Christ. Being marked with ashes at the beginning of Lent indicates our recognition of the need for deeper conversion of our lives during this season of renewal.”
The ashes used on this solemn day come from the palms that were used in the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration. These palms are collected by the church prior to the Ash Wednesday service and blessed using Holy Water and infused with incense.
“I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” (Daniel 9:3, NAB)
“…they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes.” (Matthew 11:21, NAB)
As these ashes are symbolically marked or dabbed on our forehead with the sacred sign of the cross, we are invited and reminded of the prayerful words, "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return." (Genesis 3:19)
It is interesting to note that come the year 2018, the church’s solemn celebration of Ash Wednesday will fall smack on the secular commercial observance of Valentine’s Day; February 14. Similarly in the years 2024 and 2029, these two contrasting days will coincide…I humbly stand to be corrected. Ashes, fasting, repentance versus red roses, chocolates, lavish spending – what a paradox we pilgrims will face!
The purpose of fasting and self denial during Lent is spiritual focus, self discipline, imitation of Christ, penance, reconciliation and ultimately, conversion – turning around, wholly and completely towards God.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “Man is dust and to dust he shall return, but he is precious dust in God’s eyes, because God created man for immortality.”
As we journey towards Ash Wednesday, let us always choose to respond “yes” to the One who gives us our existence, to freely love and serve Him…to follow Christ in what we say, feel, think and do; instead of being simply ‘seduced’ and 'enslaved' by the world.
The free and saving love of Jesus Christ…is a love that the world today, cannot understand...