Dust, Bones and the Promise of Life


Convivium, 14 February 2018

Father Raymond de Souza finds in the rare coincidence of Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day a message for the heart in the midst of ashes.

Ash Wednesday brings Catholics out in great numbers, including those who don’t frequently attend church. In New York City such is the desire to receive the penitential ashes that priests distribute them in the great hall of Grand Central Station.

This year has occasioned some unusual commentary because Ash Wednesday is also Valentine’s Day. As you would expect, the requirement that Catholics fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday is not lifted in favour of the rather secular observance of the Valentine’s Day. But the coincidence of the two does invite reflection.

It doesn’t happen often. Since 1900, Ash Wednesday has fallen on Valentine's Day only three times, in 1923, 1934 and 1945. Looking ahead it will fall on Valentine's Day again in 2024 and 2029 and then not again for the rest of the century. So in 200 years, it will happen six times.
We were made for love. Genesis tells as much, when the Lord God decreed that it was not good for man to be alone. Eve was fashioned for Adam, one whom he could love, rather than rule over like the beasts. Yet it all went sour so soon.

Ash Wednesday takes us back to that aboriginal drama. When the priest puts the ashes on the forehead, he has two options. He can say: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Those are the words of Jesus in Mark 1:15, at the beginning of His public ministry. Jesus prepared for that public ministry with forty days of fasting in the desert. Lent can be something similar for us, disciples following the example of the Master.

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