It seems appropriate to begin Pre-Lent, the three Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, with Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love. For the entire Christian project is about love, God’s love for us, fallen and selfish as we all are. It is this recognition that forms the foundation of Western Civilization and thus makes the woke squirm uncomfortably.
It is difficult to see oneself as a sinner in need of redemption. The absence of God, of belief in a Judgment, solves this difficulty. But materialism creates other difficulties far worse. It robs life of meaning, structure, and even mental health. Studies show that a believer’s brain has the same markers as those markers identified for mental health. No wonder we long for meaning, for it is the best antidote to depression.
And so Christianity provides meaning and mental health. That’s not to say it is easy going. But if one tries to follow the rules, tries to keep the seasons and the feasts, tries to enter into a dialog with God we call prayer on a daily basis (hourly better), the “black dog” of depression will be kept at bay. We must experience Christ in the liturgy and allow him to remake us. We must open the door of our hearts so that he can enter.
It is scary sometimes to open that door, unlock one’s soul, so that it may be scrubbed clean by Christ’s rule. That is where habit helps. That is where the Church helps. For we have many supports in this great Christian project. We need only desire God. We need only join gatherings of others who desire God. We need only show up with other Christians on Sundays in church.
Suicide among the young has risen during what Arthur Hermann calls “The Great Confinement.” The secular structures of school and work have crumbled, allowing the meaning embodied in these activities to weaken or disappear, to be replaced with nothingness, meaninglessness, depression, suicide.
We need, as human beings, reason to believe. We need structure and meaning. Today there are many logical arguments to support that step toward faith. Mere Christianity did it for me (C.S. Lewis), but many others have since added to his apology. If one wants to believe, wants to find God, he or she will.
Perhaps the lockdowns threw a bright light on the health of our souls. Now we need to do something about it: go to church, talk to a pastor, ask questions. Read Lewis. Clean up the mess within so that new life can be born again.
And so we are celebrating Septuagesima Sunday, preparing for Lent. Lent of course prepares us for Easter and the magnificent (and meaningful) gift of eternal life for believers, found in the resurrection of Christ. But to be prepared for Lent means scrubbing and cleaning and heart opening, baring of the soul. We consider what we might give up for Lent and what we might take on. We robe ourselves with garments of humility and honesty, sacrifice and offering, all parts of love. Where have I fallen short of the Ten Commandments? Where have I not loved enough? Have I delighted in wrong and deplored right? Self-examination begins today, and the Church offers a formal way of confessing and being absolved by God, but such confession can also happen each evening, on the knees, praying at the end of each day, scrubbing that day before sleep.
And Valentine’s Day reminds us of love. In spite of the commercialization, and the many historical saints that claim this day, the message is the same. Love one another and, most of all, love your spouse, in sickness and in health.
Today I give thanks to Our Lord Jesus Christ for entering my heart when I opened the door fifty-five years ago at the age of twenty. I was, looking back, heading for depression at the time, the meaningless of existentialism preached in my college classes hanging like a dark fog over me. I believed what they taught, that God was dead, belief a fool’s dream. When I turned back to the crossroads where I had taken a wrong turn, I saw the cross and took a different road. I listened to C.S. Lewis. And I opened the door of my heart.