Can you believe it? Lent doesn’t begin in the Latin Church until this coming Wednesday, but we’ve already received inquiries on whether Catholics could have a dispensation from observing their Ash Wednesday obligations so that they could mark the largely secular celebration of (St.) Valentine’s Day. Adhering to Catholic Church Law, we are obliged to practice fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, even though this year (St.) Valentine’s Day falls on the same day. Ash Wednesday last fell on February 14th in 1945, long before the secular observance of St. Valentine’s Day became the popular “Valentine’s Day.” But, it is due to fall on the date again in 2024 and also 2029; that’s the way it goes.
As Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, the obligation of fast and abstinence, along with deepened prayer and works of charity must naturally be the priority of the Catholic community. Under Church law, every Catholic in good health, aged 18 to 59, must fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday. Also, they may eat just one full meal (no snacking between meals!), supplemented by two smaller meals that together do not equal the full meals.
Latin Rite Catholics throughout the world recognize Ash Wednesday as the solemn beginning of Lent, a sacred period of prayerful reflection and penance, as is evidenced by the large number of church goers on this day. Those Catholics who still wish to celebrate Valentine’s Day could do so the day before, on “Shrove Tuesday” – a.k.a. Mardi Gras – a traditionally festive time before beginning our solemn Lenten observance.
The Lenten season presents us with a wealth of opportunities to draw closer to the source of our life and faith. Several Lenten-themed programs appear in our weekly parish bulletin that are geared to the different levels of spirituality that our diverse parish family members can attend or participate in. Likewise, some of our teens already had a head start, with the LIFETEEN group preparing health and sanitary packets for those who are in the VA Hospital in West Palm Beach. Also, last week our local council of the Knights of Columbus sponsored a 5-K run for the benefit of two different charitable organizations. Over 120 of our kids partook of this charitable run, taking their stewardship of God’s gifts as seriously as they do keeping God’s Commandments. That’s why we want to continue to provide the best possible schooling for them in our parish school: to impart true wisdom and knowledge and understanding of God’s creation Though we each are made in the image and likeness of God, His wisdom is so, so much greater than all the combined human wisdom of this world. The “wisdom of this world” teaches us to hold on to grudges and to take revenge – and not to forgive. St. Paul tells us this is “foolishness in eyes of God” because it can never bring what everyone truly wants and needs: peace of soul!
Jesus breathes into us His supernatural strength of the Spirit to stand with Him and willingly imitate His example in the face of temptation or unjust persecution. If we follow Him into His Passion, we discover an unexpected opportunity for great spiritual growth: the challenge to master ourselves – to overcome our hatred, our resentment, our desire for vindication. St. Ambrose puts it this way: “Stronger than the person who conquers the strongest fortresses is the person who conquers himself.” Lent is the time ‘par excellence’ to strengthen our resolve to imitate Jesus, walking the path He trod and offering God our best in sacrifice. The path through the Passion is the path of self-mastery that leads to freedom. Jesus promises, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free. – free to turn the other cheek, to walk the extra mile, to give more when it seems that it’s impossible to give.
I hope you will make a good Lent, allowing it to make a difference in your life – a difference for the better!