MANILA, Philippines – “Love is best expressed by sacrifice.”
For a Catholic bishop, this is one of the lessons Filipinos can learn from both Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, which fall on the same day this year – Wednesday, February 14.
Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, wrote this in a reflection titled “Lessons of Love for Ash Wednesday.”
Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, a 40-day penitential season that leads to the remembrance of Christ’s death on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter.
“The 3 keys for Valentine’s Day are the same 3 keys for the season of Lent – sacrifice, prayer, and giving,” Villegas said.
Read Archbishop Villegas’ full reflection below:
Valentine’s Day is a very popular and much awaited feast of friends, lovers, and romantics. It is based on the feast of Saint Valentine, a Roman priest of the 3rd century who was killed for the faith. His crime was helping Christian couples receive the sacrament of matrimony. For helping couples get married, the Roman emperor had him beaten with clubs and stones and eventually beheaded.
February 14 is a good day to reflect on love and what it really means. Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day gives us a good occasion to dig more deeply into the meaning of love as much as to correct kindly our wrong notions of love.
The real symbol of love is not Cupid with shooting arrow but Christ hanging on the cross declaring in that action at Calvary that “there is not greater love than to die for your beloved.” The real day of love is Good Friday when evil attempted to kill Goodness Himself, but instead received the vengeance of forgiveness and mercy. The vengeance of God is mercy. The law is no longer retaliation but compassion.
How is love expressed best?
Love is best expressed by SACRIFICE. Love is best shown by suffering with your loved one or suffering instead of your loved one. Today as we begin the season of Lent, we are mandated by our Catholic tradition to fast and abstain.
Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat and items made with meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
Every person between the age of 18 and 60 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Fasting and abstinence are acts of love. The food we do not eat or the meat we abstain from must be given to those who practically fast every day due to extreme poverty, enduring inhuman hunger. Fasting and abstinence are not exercises of will power. We eat less so the hungry can have more. We enjoy less so those who suffer may receive some comfort.
Love is also best expressed by PRAYER. It is the joy of love to be present to the loved one; to sit by; to stand by; to eat with; to be with. Love is presence.
What is prayer? Prayer is being in the presence of God. When we pray, God stays by us. When we pray, distances are narrowed. In prayer, we get united even if we are physically apart. Prayer brings us together. The Lenten season is time for more prayers of presence; not just reciting more prayers but praying in silence and solitude, welcoming the Lord and everybody, friends and enemies together, into our souls.
Lastly, love is best shown by GIVING. Love is generous. Love gives without counting the cost. It has been said that you can give without loving but you cannot love without giving. It has also been said that “we must love until it hurts,” but Ash Wednesday pushes us to heroism unto saying “love until it no longer hurts.” Giving has become so much a part of you that you cannot live without giving. Let selfless giving become our second nature. Giving will not hurt anymore.
The 3 keys for Valentine’s Day are the same 3 keys for the season of Lent – sacrifice, prayer, and giving.
Let us relocate love from romanticism to heroism. Let us move our gaze from Cupid with his arrow to Jesus Christ on the cross. Let us move from cheap love to true love. Let us fill Lent with love. Let us fill Valentine’s Day with the Lenten spirit.
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan