As I write, it is Ash Wednesday. And it is also Valentine's Day. If you're reading this and it is no longer Ash-Valentine's-Wednesday, you will still want to read on. Because unless you're reading this in 2030 (and I do like to think that my musings here are like instant deathless prose), we aren't out of the woods yet.
Ash Wednesday on Valentine's Day. Or, if you prefer, Valentine's Day on Ash Wednesday. I don't remember that happening before, and although my memory is bad, just like Marcel's used to be, I think I would have remembered this. Unlike Marcel back in the day, I have Google to help me out (he had Jesus - a much better source, but hey, we do what we can), so I looked it up. Sure enough, the last time these two special days coincided was 20 years before I was born, so I'm not forgetting anything that happened in my lifetime at least. (I did think this crazy coincidence of dates would be too much to forget).
The year that last saw Ash-Valentine's-Wednesday was 1945, which is pretty amazing for three reasons.
First, it was in 1945 that Marcel started writing down his conversations with Jesus, Mary, and St. Thérèse.
Second, though that last conjunction of Heart Day and Ash Day was 73 years ago (correct me if I'm wrong - my math, like my memory, can be squishy), the previous two instances of the conjunction were in 1934 and 1923. In other words, the last three instances were each just 11 years apart.
Here I'd thought the aftermath of the first World War, the Great Depression, and World War II were a lot to live through, but people living through those years had the Ash-Heart Day thrice too! Poor darlings! And for some people I am lucky enough to know, this 2018 occurrence will be the third time in their life. (I know, it is absurd that the year is 2018. I feel like I'm living in the future, in sci-fi territory, though I always pictured we'd be in those polyester pantsuits the space-filled-future was supposed to feature so prominently). But wait, there is more . . .
The third reason it is amazing that 73 years have passed since the last Ash-Heart Day is that the next one will be in 2024, and the next again in 2029. In other words, Ash-Heart Days are starting to come fast and furious, our next being in 6 years, and the following only 5 years after that.
I think this calls for a policy. I mean if you don't have to worry about something for 73 years, you might just let it slide and call it a day. But if you know the situation will arise again practically tomorrow, and then yet again in what starts to feel like another blink of the eye, well, it's time to know where you stand.
Yes, you see, you can't get out of it. We have entered one of those divisive moments in history, a truly "there are two kinds of people in the world" sort of moment. Brace yourself, The question is coming. What do you think? Is the glass half empty? Or is it half full?
I know at first glance this glass is looking like we're not just half empty, we're down to the dregs. Darned if you do and darned if you don't, which is NOT a good way to start out Lent (with all those darns). But I'm feeling inspired, so let's try a double take.
I should warn you that I tend to look on the bright side of things, which can be annoying to innocent bystanders and once earned me the nickname (just for a moment, but how I have cherished it) of Polly-Suzanna. So, not surprisingly, I'm seeing this Ash-Heart Day as a win-win situation. I'd rather you did too, so that whichever camp you fall into, you'll be able to thank God for His Providential timing. Here's how it goes:
If you dread Ash Wednesday every year (or even just hate it once you're in - like the priest who told us in his homily that he never ate breakfast: didn't want it, wasn't hungry in the morning - except on Ash Wednesday when he always woke up absolutely ravenous), having it be Valentine's Day too could be a glass is half full kind of moment. I mean who's to say you can't have your one full meal at a five star restaurant with your best beloved?
On the other hand, if you usually dread Valentine's Day, whether because you're single, or because you're part of a pair, the other half of which has expectations (let's not dwell on this, girls. They're good men, just not as romantic as we are perhaps), well then what a perfect out! It's Ash Wednesday! Heaven forbid you should celebrate: you're wearing sackcloth and ashes, and those are never optimal attire in public places, as Jesus pointed out in today's Gospel.
But now that we've made everyone happy . . . okay, maybe not the other half of the anti-Valentine's Day contingent, and possibly not those who love both days and don't know how to split the difference . . .
Well we do need a policy, that's one thing we can agree on. (If you're a Meyers-Briggs "P", I know you don't think we need a policy, but Miss Marcel happens to be a "J".) As I said at the outset, we're not out of the woods yet, even at midnight when we're all biting into a steak sandwich (or is that just me?).
Enter Marcel. At last!
And Jesus! The reason for the season, as they say.
And with them, as always, St. Thérèse, the second Solomon, the one who has an answer for everything and it's even got an easy-to-remember name, if not an acronym.
What was it again?
Ah, yes, the Little Way - the way that turns everything upside down, that rolls the dice and comes out with 7's and 11's every time, the way that more effectively than any other takes lemons (us) and turns them into lemonade (saints), sans bitterness but with plenty of sweet.
If you've stuck with me till now, here comes the pay-off. I've got a plan for surviving these ubiquitous Ash-Heart Days, a plan inspired by Marcel and company, and it's nothing more nor less than a third alternative that makes all things new. Bears the signature of Jesus, you might say, He who is forever making all things new.
So here it is.
I don't think this Ash-Valentine's-Wednesday is a glass half full.
Nor is it a glass half empty.
It is nothing if not a glass overflowing.
You've heard of this glass. It's talked of in one of St. Thérèse's favorite psalms, the one we almost know by heart, despite ourselves and our poor memories. No, not Psalm 103; that's her other favorite. I mean the 23rd Psalm. You know, the Lord is my shepherd, and there is nothing I shall want. The thing is that after the still waters, and then the valley of death (don't worry, He's right there and we're fine), He sets a table for us, even in the sight of our enemies, and guess what? After He anoints our head with oil, then our cup overflows!
Okay, so today we were anointed with ashes. I won't say that's oil, but hopefully we've been baptized and even (we are so lucky!) confirmed - that was definitely an anointing with oil. And now, on this day which I'm betting the devil was looking forward to, a day on which he planned to watch our frustration, instead he had to watch the beauty of Ash Wednesday coming together with the beauty of Valentine's Day. Our cup overflows with not only the glory of these 40 days (or at least the beginning of them) but with the sweet elixir of the Lover and the Beloved.
You may not see the work of Marcel in this yet, and it's not your fault. I'm blathering on and on when what I really want to do is simply copy out some Marcel for you. This is from Conversations, and it helps me to remember that Lent is not a depressing season, but a chance to spend more time with our true Love, Jesus. How is that not wonderful? Actually I know how it can seem not wonderful - for those of us who are little, it seems scary! Penance? Yikes! But before we panic, let's read what Marcel, prince of the little ones, wrote to reassure us.
The year was 1946, just one past the last Ash-Heart Day. Marcel was in Lent and it had been full of ups and downs, but at (352), on April 3rd, he writes:
"Little Jesus, here we are now well into Lent and, lo and behold, you are sending me delights. It seems to me that acting so you are behaving against the spirit of the Church. Is that not the case little Jesus?"
And Jesus responds:
"Come, come, Marcel, you are speaking as if you do not know how to reflect. If you were to speak that way to someone who was about to do you a favor, the person would not be able to stop himself from scolding you. But I, far from scolding you, I still love to hear you speak in this way, since you do not intend to reproach me and, furthermore, it gives me an opportunity to make you understand something about grace. Marcel, listen carefully. In order to give grace to men, I do not need to wait for a particular season or to pay attention to the temperature because, in that case, there would be times when men would be deprived of the grace necessary for the life of their souls."
Ah, Jesus! You are so gentle, so dear, so kind and reassuring!
Truly the cup of Marcel's conversations overflows with Your goodness, and I wanted to pour more into this post than I have, but alas, even on a day of fasting, sooner or later one eats. Or at least we do at my house, and I am being called to the kitchen to fill my own family's cups to, if not overflowing, at least the brim.
I will stop here, then, and mention only, in conclusion, that Jesus is waiting to fill your cup. He is the Divine Host, He is the one who changes water into wine (a fitting hope for those who abstain from alcohol in Lent!), He is our tremendous Lover, the Spouse of our souls. May this Lent - starting on Valentine's Day - be your best ever by giving you Jesus in an intimacy you haven't yet tasted. He can do all things, even with such fragile vessels as we are. Let Him fill you - and thus, mysteriously, you will satiate His thirst.
Oh, and if you feel like you've heard from Marcel and Jesus, but wonder what Thérèse had to do with it, look up top at the photo. Those are for you, from her! Who says they don't celebrate Valentine's Day in Heaven? Or maybe she thought Ash Wednesday was the ideal time to shower you with roses. Either way, she hasn't forgotten her promises, and she hasn't forgotten you. Happy Ash-Heart Day!
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