Reflection: February 14, 2024 Lenten Message

Dear university community,

Happy Valentine's Day!

You might be a little bit surprised to read a Lenten message that begins with a "happy Valentine's day" wish but, should you? Really. Think about it. Seriously: Just pause for a moment and think about it. Isn't it "love" the heart of the matter? Didn't Jesus himself summarized the law and the prophets by saying, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Mt. 22:37-39)?

But enough questions already! After all, love is more than words. Love is a God who came down to dwell among us so that we would remember who we truly are and when the task demanded it of Him, He hung on a cross to show us the true meaning of loving sacrifice. Love is what we are all about. Love is what we do (more than what we say). Love is another name for the Incarnate Word of God—and thus, it is another name for us, followers of the Incarnate Word.

This simple idea, that Lent is all about love, is a big challenge to those of us who grew up thinking that Lent is all about punishment and harsh sacrifice to appease a wrathful god and avoid going to hell. Instead, let us keep in mind that, while our fasting, praying, and giving alms during the next forty days will not be done without difficulty, the end-goal is not to fulfill the law for the law in order to avoid or gain something. Instead, the deeper reason is to become the type of people who honor the Incarnate One by thinking and behaving like He did.

To be sure: our liturgical participation during Lent (going to confession, keeping meaningful silence during Mass, spending more time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, etc.), as well as our acts of piety (e.g., getting ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, praying the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary on Wednesdays and the Viacrucis on Fridays, etc.) are supposed to help us enter into the desert with Jesus, face our temptations and inner demons, purify our heart and mind, and come out of there ready to be servant leaders, willing and ready to live and die in accordance with God's will (Mt. 4:8-11).

This Lent, let us "give up" superfluous things (e.g., gadgets, bad habits, harmful behaviors) so as to make room for love to come and make a home in our minds and hearts. This means considering something to abstain from during Lent, as well as committing to embrace actions to better ignite the flame of our loving faith within us.

So, for the next forty purple (or violet) days, as we go into the desert with Jesus, inviting God to work in us during this time of sacrifice, let us keep in mind the goal of all our actions: to sit at table with Jesus on Holy Thursday, as we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper; to walk with Him during his Passion and Death on Good Friday; and to really and truly be there, renewed, redeemed, and replete with love on Holy Saturday, as we witness the day of the Triumph of the Incarnate Word and are made partakers of His wondrous Resurrection.

And we are back to love: a love that has been purified, redeemed, and elevated to a different level. Is there a greater kind of love?

As we seek to be transformed by love and into loving servant leaders during this season of Lent, I invite all of us to recite the prayer that St. Charles de Faucauld placed on the lips of Jesus, the Incarnate Word, as He was dying on the cross:

I abandon myself into your hands;
do with me what you will.
Whatever you may do, I thank you:
I am ready for all, I accept all.
Let only your will be done in me,
and in all your creatures –
I wish no more than this, O Lord.
Into your hands I commend my soul:
I offer it to you with all the love of my heart,
for I love you, Lord, and so need to give myself,
to surrender myself into your hands without reserve,
and with boundless confidence,
for you are my Father.

Sr. Walter Maher, CCVI
VP for Mission and Ministry