By Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu PhD
In the gospel of St. John we read, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13). In verse 12 Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I loved you. Given this mandate, the entire human race joyfully celebrates what I may describe as Ash – Valentine day. On this day we venerate St. Valentine who reigns as the patron of true and happy marriage. It is a day popularly known as lovers’ day. Like the Harley’s comet which appears once or twice in one’s life time, the Ash Wednesday once fell on Lovers day in 1945. God-incidentally, the Church’s ritual Ash Wednesday of 2018 once again falls on this great day of Love. For some thinkers, it is an indication that God is finally taking over the control of human affairs. Today the healing effect of the Ash will replace the euphoric joy of carnal pleasure. Today the common illicit disposition of young men and women will shift to the Love of God made manifest in Jesus on the cross of Calvary.
Overtime, the atmosphere which surrounds Valentine’s Day has remained that of sexual promiscuity and other forms of worldly pleasures. To the disappointment of God, some Westerners have argued that drunken and seductive spirit should pervade the day. In the past, a lot of vices have been committed every 14th day of February each year. This year, our God seems to affirm that enough is enough. This year He calls you and me to a total conversion of heart. It is in this repentant spirit that we celebrate these two major events simultaneously. The love we celebrate today is that love which seeks the good of others. It is in this spirit that the Ash replaces the passing worldly emotions and maternal presents. In the Eucharistic celebration which begins the day, the priest carries out a symbolic act of administering the Ash on our foreheads. This is the greatest act of love which turns our gaze unto our final destination in our earthly journey.
St. Paul gives us a true picture of love which the imposition of Ash elicits in every true Christian when he echoes, “Love is always patient and kind, love is never jealous, love is not boastful or conceited, it does not store up grievances, love does not rejoice in wrongdoing… (1 Cor. 13:4-7). The great anointing we receive today with the Ash pulls us into a serious introspection. We meditate on the courage of St. Valentine who accepted death for the goo* of young couples. What we celebrate on this Wednesday therefore, is a cross bearing love.
The Godincidental celebration of this Valentines Day on an Ash Wednesday marks the solemn inauguration of the Lenten season. The formal blessing and distribution of burnt ashes on the forehead of every Christian is major in the liturgy of the day making this year’s valentine day a special one. The joint celebration of Valentines Day and Ash Wednesday buttresses the fact that man is indeed a supernatural being. The liturgical rite of placing ashes on the forehead of each Christian on this day speaks directly to the conscience of the recipient. The gesture is the highest act of God’s love for humanity. Embedded in this rite is God’s ultimate wish for us to constantly aspire for eternal life. In the Catholic tradition, the priest echoes in a subtle voice while placing the ash, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” or Repent and believe the gospel”. These two catch divine Love Phrases consolidate our Christian commitment to eternal life which is the greatest human aspiration.
A deeper reflection on the God-incidence of Valentine day and Ash Wednesday calls us to a standstill in our craze for worldly pleasure, material acquisition and sentimentalism. The phrases used in the administration of Ashes negate our common inclination to immoral tendencies. Therefore, in the face of various crippling carnal vices plaguing our society, God reminds us today that we are merely dust and unto dust we shall willy-nilly return one day. The ritual Ash on this Wednesday signals the fact that all our earthly pleasures and glories are vanity. The season of Lent which kicks off on this Valentine Ash Wednesday constitutes an urgent call for a home-coming. The replacement of worldly presents with the distribution of Ash sends a warming text message to every enlightened mind. The God incidence of these celebrations is not a happen-stance but a divine invitation for a total change in one’s life and program.
In this special period of Lent the regular summon for a radical spiritual transformation becomes very crucial. In the words of St. Paul, we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans 3:9). This Ash-Valentine day is an opportune moment to implore God to grant us the life changing grace. The period of Lent-Valentine season offers us the occasion to prepare ourselves to walk with Jesus in his forty days fast and prayer before the Devil appeared.
Like the people of Nineveh in the time of Jonah, this event invites us to put on spiritual sackcloth from the president to the beggar on the street. In this disposition, God will surely forgive our sins and answer our prayers against the Herdsmen, Boko Haram, economic hardship, the mistakes of the present government and our hatred for one another. All the Church ministers are expected to preach the good news of salvation in their Churches and no longer the usual gospel of prosperity which has led our citizenry unto the doorsteps of hell. Our preachers should refrain from stressing miracles, quick success, open door, breakthrough, instant alert, near success syndrome and other hypnotizing phrases born out of hallucinated exuberance. During this special period, our Priests should critically tackle materialism, sexual promiscuity, lesbianism, pornography, pedophilia etc. We should condemn any religion which sees sickness, poverty, ill-luck and misfortune as a curse. The cross is the reason for the season.
The major features of this Lenten-Valentine period which includes fasting and abstinence create better understanding for the proper use of material things. We are enabled to conquer the self through Christian discipline. Fasting in this season goes beyond not just eating physical food. The prophet Joel cautioned us when he said, “Let your heart be broken not your garments torn (Joel 2: 12-18).
In this Ash Valentine celebration, everyone should call to mind the fact of our being fashioned out of the dust of the soil. We should sincerely renounce our sins, the priests and all. Who knows whether the present hardship in our country is not linked to our sinfulness? During this season, the church recommends the sacrament of reconciliation as a medication for our evil deeds. Mortification, almsgiving, work of penance etc. are also recommended. With these spiritual weapons one makes a full commitment to God and draws ever closer to Him.
By Rev. Fr. George Nwachukwu PhD