With Eyes of Faith
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What’s rarer these days than a steak at Love’s BBQ restaurant?

From its founding in 1948, Love’s BBQ Restaurants served up high quality steaks to customers in the Los Angeles-Inland Empire region, however, in 2007 they closed down their restaurants but have continued to sell their BBQ sauces on-line with the hopes of one day re-opening in the future.

I can still remember taking my wife, Cheryl, out to the local Love’s restaurant on University Ave. in Riverside. We had recently moved back to Riverside, had been making home improvements (repainting, gardening, etc.) when we decided to take a break and celebrate Valentines’ Day by eating out.

Whether you ordered up ribs or chicken or even a top sirloin steak sandwich you always added a few of their tempting side dishes: Love’s Barbecued Beans (the best!); Cole Slaw; Steak Fries, Mixed Sautéed Vegetables or Buttered Corn Cobette to complete the meal.

We were sad to see them close and while we continue to live in hope that one day they will reopen, we accept that there is nothing, at this time, that’s quite as rare…
A close second, however, could easily be finding Valentine’s Day sharing the same day, February 14, as Ash Wednesday. It occurred only three times last century (1923, 1934 and 1945) and will only happen again three times this century (2018, this year, and one final time in 2029).

And yet I feel they have something very special in common.

St. Valentine is the person the day is named for and he is credited with writing small notes to people, signing them ‘your valentine.’ He became for most of us the patron saint of love, chocolate and greeting cards.

Ash Wednesday, on the other hand, is the first day of Lent and as such, the faithful are asked to refrain from eating meat on this day (without proper dispensation being granted by the bishop) and on all Fridays of Lent until the start of the Easter Season.

Tradition follows that the Tuesday before (called ‘Fat Tuesday’ or Mardi Gras), revelers take the opportunity to eat sweets and rich foods prior to committing themselves to the rules of fasting and abstinence for the next forty days of the season of Lent.

For Lent is the season where we focus our attention inwardly, to try and root out those sins that have crept into our being (sloth, greed, etc.) over time. We seek to regain control over our body’s appetite for selfish pleasures (i.e., self-centeredness) by seeking out ways of serving our neighbor as our self.

Through self-denial, we humble ourselves before our Lord and ask him to help us break free from sin and resolve to avoid those things that tempt or lead to sin while making an effort to improve ourselves through additional prayer, fasting and almsgiving to (and for) others.

Our commitment to this journey of humility and self-discovery begins with the marking of our foreheads with ashes -- A sign of our commitment to God who not only loved us first, but helps us to love more generously. More completely. More selflessly.

That’s the best kind of love.

And so as we come forward to receive our ashes on this special Ash Wednesday, let them be for us our valentine back to God for all he is and does for us. May we wear them proudly, with the assurance that God’s love will never end. Never close. For His love is eternal.

John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.