The Compatibility of Lent and Love

Since Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday fall on the same day this year, many Catholics were wondering if the Church would give dispensation from the rigors of this Holy Day.

No such dispensation was given, because Ash Wednesday takes precedence over Valentine’s Day.  Ash Wednesday inaugurates Lent, which is the liturgical period in the Church when the faithful prepare themselves (through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving) for the Resurrection of the Lord on Easter Sunday.

Needless to say, Lent is a pretty important season in the Church since it prepares our hearts for the gift of our Redemption through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Though Ash Wednesday is considered by the Church to be much more important than Valentine’s Day, it doesn’t mean that Lent is incompatible with love.  In fact, rooted in Lent is the theme of love!

Through prayer, self-renunciation, and acts of charity, the faithful are called to prepare their hearts in love for the Lord.  As such, there is a lot we can learn about love from the season of Lent!

However, the call for love in Lent is expressed differently than it is on Valentine’s Day.  This Valentine’s Day, perhaps our Lord is asking us to focus less on the feel-good aspects of love, and calling us instead to become imitators of Christ in the way that we love.

Below are 5 ways Lent transforms the meaning of love for our lives:

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Lent Calls Us to Die to Self Through Sacrificial Love. 

During Lent, we are called to make sacrifices.  By setting aside selfish desires, pleasures, and wants for the sake of God we produce humility in our souls, show sorrow for our sins, clear a path for God, discern his will for our lives, and utilize a powerful method of prayer.

By detaching ourselves from the world–particularly from the things we tend to indulge in or have become enslaved to–we realign our senses in relation to our gracious God, who is the source of all that is good.

In other words, Lent is a time in the liturgical calendar when we are called to convert our hearts to God.

The theme of sacrificial love also applies beautifully in human love and marriage.  In love, we are called to will the good of the other.  This means that we must prioritize our beloved’s good above any selfish desires of our own.  When we prioritize the good of our loved ones above our own lustful desires and selfish needs, we gain a deeper understanding of their dignity as creations of God.  When we set aside pride, ego, and selfishness for the sake of our loved ones, our appreciation for them grows.

Though our world teaches us to take from others and to utilize them for our own benefits, self-renunciation in human love teaches us how to love as Christ loves.

What are some things you can give up in order to grow in the authenticity of your love?  Are inordinate desires attached to your love for someone?  Are you struggling with impurities or unreasonable expectations? Take these struggles to God and ask him to help purify your love.  Think of some things that you can sacrifice in order to love more selflessly.  

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Lent is a Reminder to Practice Penance Before Pleasure.  

During Lent we are called to make an act of Penance by going to Reconciliation.  The Church calls us to do this because she knows that we are all sinful and weak human beings.

Sin is a ultimately a rejection of God’s love.  When we choose things contrary to his will or place the goods he has given us above our love for him, we end up saying to him that our desires are more important or pressing than his will for our lives.  By going to Confession, we not only receive the grace to move on from our attachments to sin, but through our contrition, we profess our love to God and claim our dependence on him in our moments of weakness.

Similarly, human love calls for a penitential heart.  The saying that “love means never having to say your sorry” isn’t truly compatible with the reality of human relationships; love, in fact, means having to say you’re sorry a lot.  

The gifts that pour forth from an authentic love requires us to love wholeheartedly, hold nothing back, and strive always to uphold the dignity of the person we love.  In order to do this, we must grow in humility and admit when we are wrong, be willing to fess up when we make a mistake, and work hard to repair any damage we cause when we hurt the ones we love.

Are you in need of forgiveness from God or from the one you love?  Make it a point to bring your contrite heart to God in the Confessional, and if necessary, bring it to your loved one and ask them for forgiveness as well.   

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During Lent We Are Called to Become Willfully Obedient. 

During Lent, we are called to practice willful obedience to the Father in the imitation of Christ. Through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, we grow closer to the Lord and learn to more easily obey his commands so that we may accomplish his will in our lives.

Similarly, in human love we are called to a kind of willful obedience.  Though the word “obedience” has a negative connotation in today’s world (especially with regards to love), the Christian meaning of it is rooted in a mutual self-gift.

Patience, compassion, willingness to listen, giving the benefit of the doubt, and saying yes to things we don’t really want to do for the sake of the other–all of these are ways in which we can act on our beloved’s needs. When a man willingly submits to his woman in an imitation of Christ, and a woman does the same for her man, together they become a beautiful expression of authentic love.

Of course, this ideally occurs when both parties submit in love to the other, but still, saints like Saint Monica (who through her continued love and warmth for her ungrateful husband became responsible for his conversion) show us that even when this kind of love isn’t immediately returned, it becomes a powerful testimony of God’s love for the other.

In what ways do you reject the needs and desires of the person you love?  What are some ways you can turn your “no’s” for your loved one, into “yeses”? 

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During Lent We Are Called to Perform Acts of Charity. 

Charity is above all a mode of participating in God’s act of love.  To love as God loves is to love selflessly and sacrificially.  During Lent, we are called to go outside of ourselves, seeking to share God’s love with others through our actions.

In relationships, we choose to love charitably when we say to our loved one, “I will try to make you happy, I will try to serve you, I will make your good my priority.”

Showering the person you love with kindness, tending to their needs without looking for a thank you, acting always with their good in mind–these are all simple ways we can be charitable to the person we love.

Focus less on what the person you love can do for you, and more on what you can do for them.  What are some selfless acts you can do in order to make the person you love happy?   

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Lent is A Calling for Holiness. 

Through all the ways mentioned above, Lent is ultimately a calling for us to grow in holiness.  Holiness is attained through grace and through the practice of virtue.  We grow in holiness when we say yes to God’s will in all things, at all times, and in all places.  Ultimately, holiness is living as God created us to live.

Similarly, human love is a calling to grow in holiness.  In a relationship (particularly in marriage), when a man and a woman love as God created them to love, together they will surely grow closer to God and grow profoundly in the sharing of his divine life.

What are ways you can strive for holiness in your relationship or marriage?  This Lent, consider praying more with or for the one you love so that you both may grow in conformity to Christ’s will for your lives.    

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As the world celebrates Valentines Day today, Catholics are called to focus more on entering the season of Lent.

However, if we allow it, the season of Lent will teach us a lot more about love than any Hallmark card, juicy steak, or box of chocolates ever will.  

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