I have one word to describe today: Weird. We are ushering in Lent with Ash Wednesday, perhaps the most solemn time of the year, all while celebrating Valentine’s Day, an extravagant holiday filled with heart-shaped chocolates, decadent gifts, and excess amounts of Fun Dip and Laffy Taffies. One minute we are showering each other with pink and red M&Ms, the next, our foreheads are being marked with a somber ashen cross. Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day . . . these feast days are polar opposites, they’re like oil and vinegar, fire and ice, night and day. They absolutely, positively cannot be reconciled. Or can they? Bear with me, but, I think they are actually perfect complements of one another. Why? Four simple words: Thoughtful Concern for Others.
When I think of the Salesian Virtue of thoughtful concern for others, the first thing, that floats to the surface of my mind is agape— Greek for self-giving love. The word is often used to describe the selfless love Jesus had for humanity when he suffered and died on the cross. To me, the core of the Salesian Virtue of thoughtful concern for others is emulating the agape – the awe-inspiring, unconditional love God gives us each day. St. Francis de Sales said, “Those who anticipate their neighbor with the blessings of sweetness will be the most perfect imitators of our Lord.” Indeed, every act of selfless kindness, every warm smile, every caring note on the message board, every genuine compliment is an avenue through which we can “imitate” the love—the agape—God gives us. In a way, thoughtful concern for others, is not just an act, it is a prayer—a means of joyously joining together our interior relationship with God and our exterior relationship with others into one big never-ending circle of selfless love and acceptance.
Perhaps that is why Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are not such polar opposites after-all. They are stuck together with the glue that is Thoughtful Concern for Others. During Ash Wednesday we solemnly prepare for Christ’s great sacrifice, his beautiful act of love towards humanity. What better way to remember such an act than emanating its essence on Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love towards others? Because when we look deeper, beneath the heart shaped balloons, red roses, and cheesy “be mine” posters, Valentine’s Day is actually grounded in thoughtful concern for others—that agape we have found in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. After all, Valentine’s Day is named after the martyr St. Valentine and his selfless acts of love—officiating marriages even amidst the Roman emperor’s ban against such a practice. So yes, this is a weird combination—but certainly not random. God knew exactly what He was doing when He placed these two seemingly opposing events on the same day. Perhaps God is sending us a message—a calling to fill every moment of our Lenten Journey with the same abundance of thoughtful concern for others and agape that permeates the air on Valentine’s Day.