The Rector's Weekly Column

Rev. Victor H. Morgan


         What do ashes and hearts have in common? In 2018, these two collide on February 14, this date being both Ash Wednesday and St. Valentine's Day. At first these two days and what they represent may seem to be far apart, but upon further examination, perhaps they belong together.

         Ash Wednesday is a solemn day marking the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. In pre-Reformation times, and still in some places today, the faithful were marked with ashes on their foreheads in token of their sorrow over sin and as reminder of their mortality. The day ushered in a 40-day season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

         But, how might St. Valentine's Day connect with and complement Ash Wednesday? St. Valentine's Day is after all about love; Ash Wednesday, penance. Is it too much of a stretch to suggest that the "love" of the former is needed for the proper observance of the latter. After all, Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1,2 writes:

         "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity [love], I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity [love], I am nothing."

         Religious things are fatally flawed if the major motivation is not love. In Old Testament times, we find God getting very cross with the children of Israel for carrying on with their sacrifices but not with a heart of obedience, fidelity and love. "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats," (Isaiah 1:11).

         Of course, St. Valentine's Day has come to be associated with the love between the sexes. It's the time a fellow gives his best girl one of those red heart-shaped boxes of candy. This type of love is good and God-ordained. But "love" is broader than what in Greek is "eros". The concept also includes "philos", the love of friendship, but most importantly 'agapa", the charity or love highlighted in 1 Corinthians 13.

         "Agapa" goes beyond "eros", "pilos" and all other types of love. It is the love God has for His human creatures. It is the love His redeemed people are to have for Him and one another.

         Going back to Lent, one of the themes of this season is self-discipline, bringing the flesh under subjection to the Holy Spirit. In achieving this goal, many down through the years have found giving up certain foods and taking on positive practices during this season helpful. Jesus Himself seemed to endorsed this practice when He told the disciples that the time would come when his followers would fast (Luke 5:35).

         But can such religious practices as fasting be taken on with a wrong motive and done in an incorrect spirit -- in a purely mechanical manner? Yes, they can. As we have already seen, love -- love for God and neighbour -- must be the theme.

         Ash Wednesday (along with the season it opens) points us to our need -- the need to get serious about the things of God. St. Valentine's Day -- stripped of its sentimentality -- points us the means whereby this might be achieved. Perhaps, these two days can sit comfortably together after all.

         O LORD, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ's sake. Amen.

The Rev. Victor H. Morgan is rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church, Blue Ridge.

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