I am sure you noticed that Ash Wednesday fell on Valentines Day this year. February 14, 2024, was an intriguing intersection of a cultural holiday that often focuses on the secular definition of love (love is a pleasurable feeling I receive from someone else), and a liturgical season that focuses on the sacrificial element of love (to will the good of the other). For Catholics, it is and still is an excellent opportunity to reflect on the great love story that is human history. 

God created us to love us. There is no other reason for our existence than to be loved by God and reciprocate that love for Him through loving those around us. Yet when we sin, we intentionally stop ourselves from receiving His love. In turn, our sinful actions are an offense against love of God and love of neighbor. Because we offend our God and His love in this way, we deserve eternal separation from Him. In fact, in God’s court of divine justice, we are always found guilty of our sin. 

Enter the Accuser: Satan. Satan wages war against us and the love that God has for us. He is the once angel of light (Lucifer) who rejected God’s plan for love of the human race. Why does he do this? We do not know this answer. Theories from the Church Fathers and other saints believe that Satan, with the rest of the angels, was shown God’s divine plan of love for the Human Race. God revealed that He would descend to our level and make His dwelling among us in order raise us higher than the angels to be His sons and daughters. The belief is that Satan and a third of the heavenly host rebelled against this plan because of pride. Satan accused us of not being worthy of God’s love because of our weakness, lowliness, and eventual sinfulness. Thus, he and his angels were cast out of heaven, but they prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls to prove they are right and that we are unworthy of God’s love. 

Thus we find in both the book of Job and the book of Revelation: The Accuser (Satan) stands before God and demands justice for our sinfulness. We realize that in the court of divine justice, Satan is right about us. His accusations about our sin are true. We are sinful people. We are small compared to the awesome might of God. We are unworthy of the love that God has for us. But Satan is not the last witness called to the stand. 

Jesus, the Son of God and Word made Flesh, descended into our sinful rebellion of God and sought to heal our wounds created from this rebellion. But not only does He heal those wounds, He reveals to us who we are called to be: lovers of God and His creation (others) even if it costs us our lives. Then Jesus takes the stand. He, the sinless one, takes on the penalty of everything the Accuser has laid before God and pays the debt owed by the human race. This is where the war on humanity backfires on Satan. This is where Satan falls because of his pride. This is where divine justice ruins Satan instead of proving him right. 

Jesus, in taking on the penalty of death given justly to the human race, acquits us in God’s divine court. But there is more divine justice to be given out. Just as divine justice demands that a sinner die, it also demands that someone who has not sinned must live. After Jesus’ death, divine justice demanded that He be raised from the dead because a sinless person cannot remain dead. Thus, Jesus rises from the dead and can never die again because He has defeated death through divine justice. And in an act of complete self gift to us (love), Jesus offers this eternal life that He has been justly given to us in an act of divine mercy. All who repent and enter into Him through His Body (The Church) and participate in His life (a life of love fueled by the sacraments), will justly live forever because we have taken on Jesus’ inheritance and not our own. 

Thus we can rejoice because the Accuser has been cast out who night and day would bring our sins before God. Jesus has won the war for our souls. But as we enter this Lenten season, we reflect on our sinfulness. We examine where we were in the court of God, guilty of our sins before our Father who loves us. We humbly recognize our guilt and repent. But we also remember that guilt is no longer our verdict and death is no longer our punishment. For those who persevere in Jesus as He did, eternal life is our reward. This is the gift of the love of God, and He offers it to us not only on Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, but every day from now into eternity.