A Lenten Valentine

Death to Romance?

Deep down, I have to confess, I am still a hopeless romantic – I believe that love is still the greatest achievement of the human heart. I wonder if you, like me, felt a quiver of sadness when you discovered that this year Valentine’s day (the one day set aside for lovers in the calendar) was to be swallowed up by Ash Wednesday.

More Lenten gloom, I thought. Talk of self-sacrifice, giving up what I like, chewing on my obstinacy and selfishness, as if I am not reminded of that every day. Violet vestments at church and constant talk of Jesus’ sacrifices for me, enough to make a man or woman despair of the human condition.

Light Creeps In

Then one of the Catholic websites came to my rescue, reminding me of the origins of the Valentine story. Valentine was a priest who lived in the mid third century at a time when the Roman emperor, Claudius, was intent on enlisting young men, single young men, for his army, recognizing that thoughts of a loving woman and even infants back home were good incentives to avoid getting too near a Scythian spear or a Saxon arrow. So he forbade young men of military age to get married

Valentine’s fault was that he believed in the rightness and goodness of marriage and he kept on marrying Christian couples till he was discovered and lost his head for it,

Lenten Loving

So I began to ponder what was a fruitful way for committed couples, especially married lovers, to tread their way through this apparently gloomy season in a life-giving way. Not surprisingly I came back to Jesus’ words about why divorce ran counter to God’s original intention for lovers, that they should leave father and mother and cleave to each other in their flesh. Of course, that is acknowledgment of the joy of exploring a shared sexuality but ‘body’ in this Hebrew context means something much richer and wider, namely, emotions, hopes, dreams and destiny.

Perhaps Lent for lovers is not so much about giving up as giving over. Once the glow of initial romance has faded there is the constant battle of letting the battlements of my own ego and its needs and wants be thrown open to enter into the mysterious world of another unique person especially one of the other sex.

Here are a few suggestions for Lenten loving: volunteering to take the kids for a jaunt in the park while the partner has some personal time for reading, prayer, reflection or just a bit of self-care; taking time to explore the demons that frequented our spouse’s childhood ; reading together some critical modern texts like Sherry Turkle’s Reclaiming Conversation or Cardinal Robert Sarah’s The Power of Silence; or doing something out of the ordinary together that would create a new space such as seeing the film Breathe and talking how you would cope if one of you became majorly handicapped.

Lent is meant to be a time of grace, of opening new doors. How about making that journey together.

Rev Neil Vaney SM