Ashes and Flowers

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I started dating my wife while we were in college. Like any dutiful boyfriend I began to make plans for our first Valentine’s Day when Lisa informed me that she wouldn’t be available for a date on February 14th. It was her roommate’s birthday and several of their friends planned a birthday party for her. Lisa said she would make it up to me by cooking me dinner on February 15th. She enlisted her friends to dress as waiters and we shared a romantic dinner for two in a common room in her dorm. I was so caught up in the moment that I proposed to her that night. I had been planning to ask Lisa to marry me and was working on an elaborate proposal scheme, but that night just seemed right. I didn’t even have a ring yet, but she said yes. We’ve celebrated Valentine’s Day on February 15th ever since.

This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 14th, putting many Catholic couples in quite a bind. How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day on a day of fasting and penance? While it’s not a problem for Lisa and me, it did get me thinking about the profound connection between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.

“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Those are the words used when placing ashes on the forehead of the faithful. Ash Wednesday, and the whole of Lent, serves to direct our hearts and minds to the reality that we are not the center of the universe. We journey through Lent to the ultimate gift of complete and selfless love on Good Friday. There’s no better time to focus on what it takes to have a lasting and joyful marriage than Lent.

Flowers will turn to dust, too. What truly lasts is selfless love, the kind of love that is only possible when I learn to die to myself.  St. John Paul II taught us through his Theology of the Body that true love is the complete gift of the self to another. If I hold on to my wants, desires, or needs I am not truly free to give all of me to my wife and children. Fasting teaches us to master our selfish desires and sacrifice them for a greater good. That is the very foundation of being a loving spouse and parent.

What a great gift we have this Valentine’s Day to be reminded that true love demands sacrifice; it demands putting the other before the self.  We should take time this Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day to consider the areas in our lives that we still hold on to, that are impediments to fully and freely giving ourselves to the one’s we love. Then make your dinner reservations and buy your flowers on February 15th.

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