There are special occasions we all look forward to in life; days that we want to mark by dressing up and celebrating with a nice meal. As this Valentine’s Day coincides with Ash Wednesday (the beginning of the Lenten season), the upscale steak house dining reservation will be canceled for many. And in our Catholic tradition, we don't just choose to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday but every Friday during Lent too. Such discipline is a call to remembrance, not a punishment; not a means to spoil one’s heart-filled holiday plans.
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This break from romanticized tradition holds within it an opportunity and invitation to reflection as we gaze upon the image of Jesus on the cross. Can you see beyond the destruction of a life to forethought of unconditional love? Franciscans believe it is out of love that Jesus came to Earth in human form. Love is the motivating force from all eternity. What better time than on Valentine’s Day, when secular culture focuses on the idea of happily-ever-after love, to look into the depth of what love calls us to in its truest form. Can we see the ashes we choose to receive on our foreheads this Ash Wednesday to be a commitment to love like Jesus? As we hear the words spoken, as we receive the ashes, what does it mean to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”? Does it mean to do more than avoid evil? Does it also call us to love and act justly? What does it mean to truly love another or a world full of others?
San Damiano Cross
Jesus leads the way, showing us how to love. The Gospels are full of examples of reaching out, going further, and giving one’s all. They are lessons that show us love is not trite greeting cards but courageous, transformative action. Choosing to love another is more than an idea or an ideal situation.
I am reminded of Peter’s journey to learn to love like Jesus. Remember what you know of Peter — his call to discipleship, his accompaniment on the road with Jesus, his promise of faithfulness that he soon denies — to his post resurrection conversation with Jesus. Love was present in each experience, even in the most trying of circumstances. Peter is transformed in the action of learning and loving like Jesus and being loved by Jesus. It took courage, honesty, humility and grace to continue walking his own journey. Peter did not give up. His perseverance is an example for all of us.
As we begin Lent, let us call to mind moments in our own lives in which love for another or others stretched our hearts and offered wisdom for life. Recall the times, perhaps in your own discernment, that you became aware of the many ways our world is in need of generous people ready to love like Christ, discovering along the way that imperfections can be transformed when desire to be of service is present.
How do you choose to love like Jesus?
*Do you know someone experiencing discernment of religious life? We invite you to share this link, www.fspa.org/showmeasign, and join the conversation.