I love February 14! When I was a child, Valentine’s Day was the day that I would share funny cards and candy and other treats. Even today, those small, heart-shaped sugar candies that I would hand out (and receive) from my “sweethearts” still bring a smile to my face. Even though I’m older, I still take the opportunity on Valentine’s Day to show the people I love how much I care about them by sending flowers, buying small presents, and maybe going out for a nice dinner. This year, Valentine’s Day falls on another special day: Ash Wednesday.
As people around the United States are telling their special someone how much they love him or her on Valentine’s Day, Catholics around the world will be entering the season of Lent and devoting themselves to the Lord. The disciplines of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—help free us from those things that prevent us from loving Christ and help us enter into a deeper relationship with him. As we deepen our relationship with him, we also deepen our relationship with our family and friends. When we live in a right relationship with God, we will discover how to live in right relationships with ourselves and others.
I like to think of Lent as a season in which I fall in love with God. During these 40 days, I reflect on how much I love God and how I might love God more. I ask myself how I am moving closer to God and how I am moving away from him. Lent is a time for me to take to heart the words of John the Baptist, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) I do this by abstaining from meat on Fridays, fasting throughout the 40 days of Lent, living a life of service, deepening my prayer life, celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and much more.
We are blessed to have this time to reflect, review, and reconcile how we live our daily lives as Catholics. Yes, Lent is a season of penance—that is, a time of conversion—when we turn our hearts toward God. Yes, we give things up, but we give them up so we can do more for God and for others. During Lent, our intention is not to make life miserable by giving up the things we enjoy; our intention is to dive deeper into the heart of Jesus. Our prayers, our fasting, and our service are all done with the intention of loving Christ more.
This Lent, in addition to discerning which sweet you will give up and at which soup kitchen you will serve, find some simple ways to love more deeply in daily life. Ask yourself: How can I love God better? How can I love others better? How can I see that all people are made in the image and likeness of God?
Find a Lenten book to accompany you this season.