By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

I’m amazed at the many little graces that pop up in the course of everyday life – whenever I bother to pay them due attention. Sadly, that’s not often enough.

But here’s one little grace for which I’m grateful : The Catholic Leader comes out this week on Wednesday, Feb. 14 – which this year happens to be Ash Wednesday as well as Valentine’s Day.

I’m going to treat that as more than a happy accident.

  • Valentine’s Day, as we know, is more about love -- and great expressions of love -- than about the life of St. Valentine, a third century priest and martyr.
  • Ash Wednesday, as we know, is about humility. At Mass, as we receive ashes, we will be reminded that our moral lives take us “from dust to dust.” This day and the season it launches, Lent, are about the importance of humility.

A common thread

And yet the two observances have a common thread – love.

Whether we are talking about our relationship with another special person or our relationship with God, we’re told that at their best both will be animated with love.

That all sounds well and good ... until we recognize that genuine love involves putting the good of another first, ahead of our own good.

That’s not easy for anyone. At least not all the time. And it’s virtually impossible for many people, often despite their best intentions.

A telling story

You’ve heard the story of the narcissist who spent quite some time at a party one evening talking about himself to a person he had just met. After going on and on for too long, the narcissist seemed to suddenly be struck with a dose of self-awareness.

“Enough about me,” the narcissist said. “What about you? What do you think of me?”

Some questions are better left unasked.

The marvelous juxtaposition of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, should not be lost on us.

Lent, we’re told, is a time to pay special attention to trying to develop a heart and mind like that of Jesus, who was absolutely selfless and God-centered even unto death.

To be like Jesus, we have to be humble. That doesn’t mean we have to think less of ourselves. It means, instead, that we have to think of ourselves less. We have to put the good of another ahead of our own good. At the very least, as Jesus said, we have to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Every excuse

When a young man asked Jesus who his neighbor was (Lk 10:29), Jesus replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. In those days Jews and Samaritans were at each other’s throats. Culture and history gave the Samaritan every rationalization for walking past the wounded robbery victim – as a priest and a Levite had already done.

Instead, the Samaritan stopped, treated his wounds and took him to an inn to recover, providing for the costs out of his own pocket.

At the end of the story, Jesus asks the young man which of the passersby was the victim’s neighbor, and the young man replies: “The one who treated him with mercy.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” (Lk 10:37).

As we observe two seemingly unrelated events this week, ask yourself: To whom do I need to humble myself and show love and mercy now, especially in the days of Lent?