Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Lent: It’s about Love

(Ash Wednesday 2018: This homily was given on February 14, 2018 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Joel 2: 12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 2; Matthew 6: 1-18.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Ash Wednesday 2018]

It’s meaningful (and providential) that Ash Wednesday falls on St. Valentine’s Day this year—because if there’s one thing that most of the world is totally mixed-up about it’s the meaning of love.  Love, contrary to popular belief, is not a synonym for sex.  It’s not a reward for being good (or, at least, it shouldn’t be).  It’s not an emotion (although when we love we sometimes might experience good feelings).

Real love is an act of the will.  Real love is a decision.  It’s a decision to desire and to seek the good for another person.  Parents, for example, are said to love their children when they seek what’s truly good for them.  They love their children when they selflessly make the sacrifices that help their children to grow spiritually, emotionally and physically.

Real love, therefore, is not selfish; it’s selfless.  If you truly love someone you put that person before yourself (as good parents put their children before themselves, and their children’s needs before their own).

Real love is also patient.  If you truly love another person you’ll make every effort to be patient with them when they don’t fully meet your expectations (which will probably be quite often!).

Real love is forgiving.  If you truly love another person, you’ll be willing to forgive them when they disappoint you or offend you in some way (which they will certainly do—at least from time to time—because they’re not perfect).

And finally, real love is self-sacrificial.  Real love is about giving yourself, in care and service, to others.  As Jesus told us, “Greater love than this nobody has, than to lay down his life for his friends.”

St. Valentine was a man who demonstrated this kind of love in his life.  He lived in Rome in the third century, and it was there that he gave the ultimate witness to his love for Jesus Christ and the Church through his martyrdom.

So what does this have to do with Ash Wednesday and Lent?

Well, this is precisely what Lent is about (or, at least, this is what Lent is supposed to be about!).  Love.  Our disciplines and sacrifices during this holy season are supposed to help us to grow in our love for God and one another.  That’s their purpose. 

Their purpose is not to make us miserable and ornery! 

This, by the way, is why getting to confession during Lent is so important!  Confession either strengthens—or re-establishes—our bond of love with the Lord.  Real love, as I said earlier, is forgiving.  God, in his great love for us, wants to forgive us!  He wants to forgive us more than we want to be forgiven!  He wants to forgive us for every sin we’ve ever committed.

But we have to ask for that forgiveness!  He will not force it on us.  He respects our freedom to much to do that.

So today, on this Ash Wednesday morning, we ask St. Valentine to pray for us—that we will have a good Lent, a fruitful Lent, a love-filled Lent: 40 days of growing in our love for God and others that will make us better men, better women, better disciples of Jesus Christ when Lent is over—and for the rest of our lives.