Though rare that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are the same, in this twenty-four hour period we are offered a time for lovers and given a mark for the love of God.
It’s a day of hearts with a mark of ashes: a perfect time for us to locate where we have progressed on the path of living and odyssey of loving. Valentine hearts and Lenten ashes identify this road as a trail of happiness. The side of the road that is littered with red rose petals and colorful hearts will direct you along a path of enjoyment sprinkled with some sacrifices while the side of ashes (prayer, self-denial, and charitable acts) will take you on a journey of sacrifice sprinkled with deep-felt joy.
Dr. Gary Chapman writes about the importance of communicating through love languages. He named five that dominate: verbal, tactile, gift-giving, deeds of service, and spending time together. Verbal love is expressed on Valentine’s Day with poetic words and cryptic messages: “Be mine…I love you…I’m forever yours…” Tactile expression is offered through kissing, cuddling, hand-holding, foot-rubbing, tender touches… Gifts are given in the form of flowers, chocolates, cards, jewelry, tickets to big events… Good deeds get done in a romantic, home cooked dinner, decorating his apartment, renovating her kitchen… Or for some, the greatest romantic expression comes in spending time together on a long walk, in a meaningful conversation, or gazing at photographs and recalling memories.
Along the road of Lenten ashes, verbal love can be expressed through prayer, kind or encouraging words: “Let me help you with that…I am sorry for my impatience…Let’s talk about your hopes and dreams…” Tactile love is offered through outreach to the less fortunate, helping a physically handicapped or elderly relative accomplish a task; it’s even done through physical exercise that gets our body in better shape so that our soul might follow via spiritual exercises. The language of gifts might include fasting or abstaining from things that we don’t need (junk food, junk videos, social media, computer games…) and giving the money we save to a food pantry or someone we encounter at a second-hand clothing store or grocery mart. Similarly, good deeds to friends, family, or strangers are limitless. We can offer encouraging acts to cheer someone who is struggling; we can volunteer at a local school to help a child learn to read; we can lend a hand in our neighbor’s yard. And, of course, the language of presence can be spent with Christ in Eucharistic Adoration or Stations of the Cross, with Blessed Mary in the rosary, with the saints through devotions, and with others in a nursing home, prison, hospital, or school. The love that grows from ashes helps the last, the least, the lost, the lowest, the littlest, and the lonely among us.
This Ash Valentine’s Wednesday, we are invited to embrace love on both sides of life’s path. The road paved with hearts and ashes can take us to a destination of rejoicing as it celebrates the joy and sacrifice they signify. They are markers for us on the trail of love and journey of grace, a path that leads us closer to God and to one another.