A tall order. At first glance, it may seem like quite a stretch to connect Ash Wednesday, Valentine’s Day, and Systemic Change. But hear me out. Actually, it is not that hard.
A brief word about the origins and customs of Valentine’s Day
But first, a word about the possible origin of the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
According to legend, in order “to remind these (soldiers) of their vows and God’s love, Saint Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment,” giving them to these soldiers and persecuted Christians, a possible origin of the widespread use of hearts on St. Valentine’s Day.
The connections in a nutshell …
Lent is about removing the scales from our eyes so we can be more aware of the love God has for us and Easter joy.
Valentine’s Day is a day focused on celebrating awareness of loving and being loved, not unlike celebrating Baptism and Eucharist.
Systemic Change can be viewed as Valentine’s Day and Lent on steroids– removing the obstacles that prevent people from experiencing belonging and positively fostering the awareness of being fully alive.
It all rests on learning to see more deeply… changing lenses.
Lent is not about giving up. It is about waking up to the mystery of God’s love. If there is any “giving up” it is getting rid of the things that put us to sleep and prevent us from seeing God’s love in our daily life.
Beneath its commercial veneer, Valentine’s Day is about expressing love and celebrating the gift of love received.
What is love? As Maria Shriver put it “I feel loved when I feel seen. I feel loved when I feel heard. I feel loved when I feel safe, secure and understood.” That means love is when someone sees me, hears me, understands me, and cares for me. Isn’t that a description of God’s love for us?
Self-absorption, our original sin, is embedded in our assumptions to the degree that often we can not even recognize it. The most radical systemic change is a conversion to recognizing that we are not only sons and daughters in God’s eyes but learning to live as caring sisters and brothers.
The good news’ that God truly sees, hears, loves, and understands us allows us to get beyond the self-absorption of Original Sin. What a systemic change in thinking!
What we call “systemic change” is seeking structures that promote what St. Irenaeus describes as the glory of God in every individual person. “The human person fully alive.” Recent Popes speak of “integral human development”.
Pope Francis, in Fratelli Tutti, offers us a master class in understanding that we are all in one family. He offers a powerful retelling of the story of the often unrecognized “Good” Samaritan. He makes connections to how we are all the characters in the story. He expands the boundaries of our vision of neighbor. In subsequent chapters of this landmark encyclical, he suggests the societal structures that best embody this good news in our own consciousness.
Lent is a time breaking out of the systems of our selfishness and becoming aware of the implications of being real neighbors. It is in our families that we most often taste this love. But this love is not meant to be hoarded but spread lavishly to each and every one of our sisters and brothers.
Connecting the dots in our lives
- What do I need to do to wake up to God’s love in my life?
- How can I celebrate the deeper meaning of Valentine’s Day and the exchange of gifts of love?
- “What must be done” to ensure societal structures modeling the vision of Matthew 25?
Thanks, John, for making us aware of the linkage you successfully make the case for. And if I may, let me add to it today’s memorial of St. Scholastica.
We read that St. Benedict is shocked at hearing her sister’s request that, instead of him leaving her for the night, he stays so they can “go until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” She prays, and God grants her wish, and her brother can’t do anything about it.
It seems to me that Benedict fails to be keenly aware of her sister’s needs. And such a failure is not unknown even to the best among us.
Awareness, mindfulness, of God’s love makes for the knowledge–I hope tp practice, too– that “love is above all rules,” that there’s such a thing as “leaving God for God.”