For more Lent reflections, go to our sister publication, Celebration.
Lent is almost here.
John the Baptist, the locust-eating ascetic dressed in camel hair, stands on the banks of the Jordan to usher us into the Lenten season of repentance and denial on … Valentine's Day, the annual celebration of love, relationship and romance.
The first day of our Lenten season of self-denial falls on the very day we often communicate our friendship with candy. Well, that may not work this year.
On the other hand, how very appropriate that we think about fasting and the denial of some types of food on this Valentine's celebration of love.
If we can see beneath the appearance of John the Baptist, we'll notice the central thrust of his whole existence is precisely this: love. He lived to point out the Other, the coming One who would love us to death.
Hmm. Valentine's Day also focuses us on the "other," as we give candy and cards and flowers to someone we secretly admire or have committed ourselves to love.
I'm sure while we kids were excited about getting our heart-shaped containers of chocolate, my parents were living their expression of Valentine's love on a completely different level … a love for each other and us … to death.
So somewhere between the heart-shaped chocolate boxes and the roses that express gratitude for the love that grows amid the thorns of life, there is a long journey of spiritual maturity.
When adults have found the love of their life, they can look at the candy and say, "And so?" because the love they live now fulfills them so much more. But the cards and candy were a good place to start.
I love ice cream (and haven't quite gotten to the point of "And so?"), but the fulfillment of love in religious life is enormously more satisfying than a bowl of that delicious dessert.
Lent is not meant to be a 40-day herculean feat of spiritualized dieting. It is a matter of the heart. Candy and ice cream are great, but gradually we discover that something else satisfies us completely on every level.
That something is the message of both Lent and Valentine's Day: love. It is what John the Baptist points us to: "Behold the Lamb of God!"
Behold the Lamb of God who gives himself as Feast on Holy Thursday.
Behold the Lamb of God who dies for us on Good Friday.
Behold the Lamb of God who descends to hell to search for humanity in the most "lost" of places on Holy Saturday.
Behold the Lamb of God risen from the dead, glorious victor.
Behold the Lamb of God worshipped in heaven.
Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world! My sins!
So before you put away that candy, respect it as a very good beginning, the first step toward the excitement of being seen and admired by another.
During the paschal triduum, when we are seen and loved unto the end by the truly Other in our lives, we will know that as wonderful as candy (or ice cream) is, it is infinitely less satisfying than the Easter feast of love that will be ours as it stretches into eternity.
[Daughter of St. Paul Sr. Kathryn James Hermes is the author of the best-selling book Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach as well as a number of other titles. She works with individuals online at pauline.org/heartwork, and her newsletter can be found at pauline.org/sisterkathryn.]