From Valentine’s Day, February 14th, to April Fools’ Day, April 1st, is a long stretch of 46 days. Both of these days are well-known and are observed and celebrated with their particular customs. This year there is an unusual occurrence: Valentine’s Day is Ash Wednesday and April Fools’ Day is Easter Sunday, both of which are also widely observed and celebrated with their particular customs. Two secular holidays juxtaposed with two religious holydays. A red heart, the iconic symbol of Valentine’s Day, also speaks of the love of God who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son,” Jesus Christ, whose death on the Cross achieved salvation when He rose from the dead on Easter.
For us Catholics within these 46 days fall other religious observances–for example, March 17th, Saint Patrick; March 19th, Saint Joseph; a feast of the Blessed Mother on March 25th, the Solemnity of the Annunciation, and the 40 days of Lent and Holy Week which climax with the three days of the Paschal Triduum, (Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday).
The 40 days of Lent can be a time of spiritual growth achieved through the practices of penance, charity and prayer. Lent is an annual observance because yearly we sinners need this penitential season. Holy Week, a week unlike any other, culminates with the three days of the Paschal Triduum during which are remembered and made present the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Easter Sunday kicks off the 50 days of the Easter Season during which the new life of the Risen Lord and our sharing in it are celebrated.
The length of time between February 14th and April 1st can appear daunting to some which may dissuade them from entering into the “spirit” of these days. Personal determination and intentional decision are necessary to live these days of grace with the goal of growing in Christ.
Pope Francis, in his message for Lent 2018, calls the traditional practices of Lent (prayer, charity and fasting) a “soothing remedy.” The sacrifices these practices require can soften us as they make us think less of ourselves and more of God and others. They are as valid for our spiritual growth as they have been for generations.
Through prayer we give more time to God who eases our burdens and worries and who loves us and watches over us; through charity we give alms so that God can help somebody; and through fasting we give up so that our hunger and thirst for God become more pronounced in our lives. For many fasting is physical, but for others fasting can be through expressions like checking our cell phones less frequently, refraining from being on line or giving up television. These may be more apropos for many people.
Holy Week is the culmination of the Lenten journey. The liturgical rites of the Paschal Triduum remember the events of our salvation which Jesus Christ won for us. His memory is made present for our participation. The liturgies of these days are unique. Plan on being present in your Parish Church in order to truly celebrate and share the gift of salvation in Christ.
Easter Sunday and the Easter Season never tire of proclaiming that Christ IS Risen; that He who burst from the tomb IS the Lord, the conqueror of sin and death. Our faith proclaims that HE IS RISEN, He lives and in His life we share through Baptism.
Days of grace and growth in Christ; days of sacrifice and giving up and days of joy and celebration await us. Do not let them pass by without observing them. Decide what you will do to enter into Lent and Easter. The Church provides guidelines and regulations and your pastor makes available a variety of Lenten devotions and programs which may be helpful.
Have a blessed Lent and through the days ahead may you grow in the love of God.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden