Friday, February 9, 2018

The Beloved of God

Dear Friends,

Just look on the internet. There are any number of jokes, images both serious and funny, and stories about the coinciding of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day this year. You’ll want to know that the last time this happened was 1945 and the next time will be 2029. But what counts as valuable in this unusual combination of the heart and the holy smudge?

On Valentine’s Day this year, one important way to celebrate is to widen our embrace – to be God’s embrace of a people who get it wrong at times, who sin, won’t forgive, refuse to be reconciled with people which is the only way we can be reconciled with God. We are a worldwide community wounded by violence, hatred, lust, self-centeredness and greed. As a Valentine’s Day gift to the world this year, apologize when needed, begin over and be unselfish, be considerate and subdue an unruly temper, put both successes, failures and mistakes into a bigger perspective and love those whom we would rather despise or ignore.

But if Valentine’s Day can be celebrated with a worldwide embrace, it can also be a day to renew and deepen our commitments. Commitment is not a popular word in our society. We seem to prefer grazing, although commitment to our careers seems to be big. If you’ve continued in a relationship with certain people for years, continue to grow together, thank God and find new ways to deepen your bond. If you’ve given yourself to God through a religious commitment, make time to spend with God on Valentine’s Day in a special way.

As for Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday/Valentine’s Day, think of this period of time in a new way. This is a time to become more deeply aware of the fact that each of us is loved by God. We are the beloved of God. The holy smudge on our foreheads is a sign of this love. It means to tell the world that we are loved so much that we are asked to participate in the love of Jesus for us, by welcoming his death and resurrection into our own lives. So, throughout Lent, we act our way into this way of thinking and being (I am the beloved of God) until it becomes so ingrained in us that it spills over into the rest of the year. Fasting, almsgiving and prayer, traditional Lenten practices take on a new meaning when thought of in the context of being the beloved of God. Will you remember you are the beloved of God when your body craves satisfaction, when you are powerless or enticed to put cultural toys first?

Another way of grasping the value of these conjoined events is to realize that I am not the only beloved of God. Because of Christ, and through Christ, the people we allow to enter our Valentine embrace also experience a life that is whole and sacred, even when they are unaware of it. Lent is not only about our own growth in God but how we can encourage in others who are also beloved of God the same wholeness we wish for ourselves.

~Sister Joan Sobala