Ash Val Day

Ash Wednesday/ Valentine’s Day: As the New Year feel of January wears off and February brings us Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, it is a time to reflect on how we think about love and its role in our lives. How can those who are celebrating look at their celebration from another perspective? How can those who want the day to be invisible see their lives from another perspective?

The answer is contained in God’s word to us. Whoever we are, we are first loved by God at the moment of conception in our mother’s womb. “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore, I have continued my faithfulness to you.”—Jeremiah 3. This love remains a constant in our lives. The truth is: God’s love is our first valentine. So, whether we celebrate openly or desire the day to fall off the calendar, we can all celebrate God’s love on Valentine’s Day at the start of our Lenten observances. We do this by reflecting on his word to each of us individually.

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season of the Church’s Liturgical Year. Lent is not just a period of “fulfilling an obligation imposed on us by the church,” it marks the beginning of an important part of our salvific history. Today’s readings remind us of the importance of this season of Lent. The prophet Joel calls us to repentance through: “Fasting, mourning and weeping.” and Paul calls this season: “A moment of grace, a favorable time, and of course, the day of salvation.” He, however, admonishes us to make use of this season to reconcile with both men and God. The gospel reminds us of the most important virtues of this season: “almsgiving, prayer and fasting.” Not only does it highlight these virtues, but it also reminds us that our Lenten observance must be carried out with humility and love.

Observe Lent with Love

The Old Testament practice of wearing ash is a sign of shame, defeat and most importantly, a sign of repentance. For us Christians, it means more than these. It marks an important point in our history of salvation. Although, the ash we are going to receive today is a symbol of death, it strengthens our hope of rising with Christ. 2 Timothy 2:11 says: “If we die with Christ, we will also rise with him”.

This is a period when we die to our unforgiveness, a time we die in our being too critical of others, it is a season when we die in our gossiping habit, when we die in our laziness to pray, our laziness to take care of our spiritual life, it is when we die to our fighting each other, reconcile with one another and show love. Love, the Bible tells us, is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. This is what the season of Lent is all about, and today Valentine’s Day justifies this call.


Today, we shall freely receive the ash made from the palms of the last Palm Sunday. This ash is a symbol of penance; a symbol of our voluntary decision and willingness to love, to walk and suffer with Christ these forty days. It also reminds us that life passes away on Earth: “Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.” The Lenten season does not end with Ash Wednesday, as many of us think. This is the beginning and, please, do not receive the ash today and disappear waiting for another Ash Wednesday. No, this is not the right way to observe this season. The Lenten season is best observed by attending liturgical functions like Stations of the Cross, retreats, and some personal spiritual exercises. It also involves taking good advantage of the sacraments, especially the sacrament of reconciliation, and visiting the Blessed Sacrament and doing spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Finally, my dear friends, it is important to say that this is an opportunity to practice love, discipline, courage, perseverance, faith, and tranquility of mind to triumph over the life of the flesh. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. So, with the psalmist, let us implore the Lord this season: Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.

[Readings: Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18]

Fr. Nnaemeka Paschal Ajuka

Fr. Nnaemeka Paschal Ajuka, PhD., BCC., ACPE Certified Educator Candidate, is a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Umuahia, Nigeria, and a Board-Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains (APC) and National Association of Catholic Chaplains (NACC). He is a retreat preacher who loves his faith. As a sociologist, he cherishes and operates from the vertical and horizontal relationships with God and neighbor. He takes Saint Francis of Assisi’s prayer for peace “Lord make me an Instrument of Peace,” as his ministry mission statement. He is a care provider who meets human needs without discrimination. He has been actively involved in the pastoral ministry in parishes in Nigeria and in the US. Previously, he was an adjunct lecturer at Seat of Wisdom Major Seminary Umuahia and the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Nigeria. Currently, he is a Certified Educator Candidate with the Department of Chaplaincy Services and Education, University of California Health, Davis, Sacramento.

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