THE LENT IN VALENTINE
BISHOP EMMANUEL BADEJO
You missed it all along?
I insist that there is Lent in Valentine! Yes, Va-LENT-ine! Providence wrote it there. Surely you missed it all along! You simply did not realize the self-giving, self-purifying component which authentic Valentine celebrations should bring. Not even when it occurs during Lent. Well here it is again. I wrote this piece 3 years ago. Little did I know that the ultimate would occur as it has this year that Valentine Day would occur on, wait for it, Ash Wednesday. Such confluence of strong spiritual and amorous emotions is very unusual. In fact it has provoked confusion with some people around. Some would have Ash Wednesday shifted so that Valentine celebration can hold unrestricted. A Conference of Bishops in Europe considers it serious enough to formally instruct the faithful not to cancel Ash Wednesday for Valentine celebrations. Such an odd world! Too many think only of the partying, the drinking and the gifts they might receive from fans, friends, lovers and admirers; of flowers, chocolates, jewels, cars or even trips out.
The news is that Lent actually improves the value of Valentine. No apologies, for there are no coincidences with Almighty God. Nothing escapes God’s attention and so there must be a useful lesson to learn in that very fact. The true spirit of Christianity is about self-giving and love. That is the message which the period of Lent cultivates in our minds and that is exactly what the Holy Saint Valentine, patron of the Valentine celebration, did with his entire life.
Many who live out the true Valentine spirit are still among us. It is just that they are little recognized and they do not flaunt their worth either. They are agents and champions of genuine endless love. Think about the love of mothers for their children, giving and giving selflessly, hardly placing any premium on what they get back for their effort. Think about the true missionaries who came to us, many of them just as poor as we are, who built our churches, our schools, hospitals and brought education to the remotest places so that multitudes may be educated, liberated and empowered. How about those who lay down their lives so that human rights of generations of people can be guaranteed and protected? Does this not remind us of Mother Teresa’s witness or of Martin Luther King leading the black rights movement? How about our own heroes in Africa, many of them unrecognized, who at great risk to their security and comfort, fought for independence and nationhood. How about our family members who brought us up or others who care for abandoned or orphaned children? Think of doctors, nurses, businessmen, teachers, civil servants and labourers who work diligently, making little profit and refraining from swindling others? How about priests, nuns, social workers etc, who give hope to the totally hopeless? How about soldiers, policemen and other security agents who risk their lives to stop terrorists and other criminals from killing innocent people. All these people whose commitment puts their entire life at risk, certainly deserve a place on the list of our Valentine celebrities. If only for them, we ought to gladly substitute the Valentine celebrations with the Ash Wednesday spirit.
Reclaiming the love space
The heroes I have listed lived a life of authentic love, so different from contemporary love-style whereby within one hour of meeting on the internet, people can decide to cohabit just for pleasure or even get married with no strings attached. Quite sad! Indeed, authentic Valentine celebrations must somehow resonate with the life of Jesus Christ. In other words, true valentine celebrations are really a call to holiness. “Love one another as I have loved you.”, Jesus commanded, for his own love is unparalleled.. I agree with those who say that Valentine should not be an annual celebration but a daily one and Christians who know their onions should concur too.
In the Catholic Church, every Mass is really a valentine celebration. It is the love-sacrifice of Christ who gave himself as food for the souls of his disciples. Take seriously those words of Jesus, uttered by the priest at Mass and you will understand. “Take this, all of you and eat it, this is my body which will be given up for you”. Reflect on the intensity of the love that makes that happen. No wonder that many incredible hymns of love have been composed around the Mass. Those who love Jesus would sing them again and again: “Oh how I love Jesus, because he first loved me… I am so glad that Jesus loves me, Jesus loves even me…Jesus, my Lord, my God, my all, how can I love thee as I ought….” In those hymns, the deepest emotions of genuine love lay embedded, waiting to be embraced.
So, such is the lent in Valentine, that wherever there is true love, self-sacrifice also thrives. Thus the Scriptures reminds us of Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit to be tempted in the desert. Were it not for love, he had no need to be tempted for he had no sin (Matt. 3-4) Knowing however that we human beings are prone to temptation he traveled the same road to show us by example how to cope with temptation. True lovers do not merely point out the way, they travel with the beloved. They first feel the heat of the kitchen before asking others to face the grill. Jesus, by that method, gave us the big clue to coping with temptation, to rely on God’s word. Lured to lust, goaded to greed and pushed to pride by Satan, he taught us: “Man does not live by bread alone…you shall not put the Lord your God to the test…” This is also the secret of self-mastery, for he who does not first master himself cannot conquer, never mind change the world. To master the self is the calling of all Christians. The Valentine way with “Lent” in it, is the way to that mastery.