This year, 2018, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same date, February 14. This seems to be a bit of a paradox, since Valentine’s Day is popularly viewed as a frivolous day to celebrate love and friendship and Ash Wednesday as a much more solemn day of fasting and sacrifice. However, upon further reflection, it seems that maybe these two days aren’t as far apart in meaning as we might think.
Valentine’s Day is festive and its most common symbol is a heart, representing love and friendship. Some people mark the holiday with heart or cupid decals on their windows or with wreaths on their front doors. School children bring heart shaped candy and cards to their classmates and teachers on Valentine’s Day. They celebrate with parties in their classrooms and make crafts to bring home to their parents. It’s a day of giving and celebrating relationships even for the youngest in society. As we get a little bit older, Valentine’s Day becomes a celebration of romantic love. Flowers and expensive chocolate, dinner reservations at fancy restaurants, and jewelry replace pastel colored message hearts and packets of cards illustrated with popular cartoon characters. And as we get older still, Valentine’s Day becomes a day to commemorate family love with a special family dinner or dessert, and cards and small gifts exchanged between parents and children. The common denominator between all of this, the underlying theme, is love and affection.
Ash Wednesday is also about love, although we have to look a little harder to see it. Whereas Valentine’s Day is represented by a bright colored, festive heart, Ash Wednesday is represented by gray and gritty ashes. One is viewed as a symbol of love, the other as a symbol of death. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a somber time of reflection when we are tasked with examining our lives and removing anything that is keeping us from God’s will. Lent is a time to “die to ourselves” by working to remove anything that is blocking God in our lives. Yes, these six weeks can be difficult because we are denying ourselves things that we depend on for temporary satisfaction, but when Easter arrives we are ready to fully accept God’s will, His perfect love, in our lives.
Both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday are important and each has their place. Valentine’s Day is fun. It’s a celebration of love, friendship, and family, which are some of God’s greatest gifts. Ash Wednesday is a day of reflection to center ourselves and make sure that we love God and the important people in our lives in the way that God intends.
Real, lasting love goes far beyond the temporary satisfaction of romance, a party, or a fancy dinner. This love, rooted in an authentic desire for the well-being of another, is unselfish, unwavering, and involves a lot of sacrifice. This type of unconditional love is well represented by the love a mother has for her child. It is a reflection of God’s love for each of us, as we are His children. As our heavenly Father is always there for us, He asks that we support each other. That is the goal of St. Gianna’s Place. Our mission is to support mothers and their babies so that they are able to pursue a life that glorifies God. He has a plan and purpose for each of us, and we can only reach our full potential if we fulfill it. At St. Gianna’s Place, we will help pregnant women in need and their babies to reach their full potentials. We will show them God’s unconditional love by providing a safe home, job and life skills training, and emotional support. As Christians, it is part of our purpose to help others find theirs.
At this time in the state of New Hampshire, there are only two other homes dedicated solely to pregnant women in crisis and their babies. The need for another home is great. Will you consider donating to St. Gianna’s Place in honor of your Valentine? Or perhaps you will consider a Lenten sacrifice that will benefit St. Gianna’s Place? This can be in the form of daily prayer or as a financial donation. Both are very much needed as we work to open our doors to show God’s love to the most vulnerable among us.
We wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day and a Blessed Ash Wednesday. We pray that God’s love will be obvious to you in the commemoration of both of these special days and in the Lenten season that follows.
2018 has arrived, bringing with it resolutions, hopes and dreams, and a chance to be more. The beginning of a new year signals a new beginning, a fresh start. It’s a reset of sorts that invites us to set goals and examine new opportunities. It pulls us out of our comfort zones and offers the chance to reach a little higher, to be a little better. This age old demarcation of time is significant across all cultures, underscoring that human beings have an innate need for renewal. We for long for freshness in the old and, at times, we need to embrace something new.
Fortunately, New Year’s Day isn’t the only time that we have opportunity for renewal. In life there are endless examples of new beginnings such as a family move, reconciliation between friends, a career change, even a new school year. In reality, each day provides the freshness we crave. These new beginnings are gifts from God, allowing us to renew the old, develop what is new, and sometimes just begin again.
New beginnings are vital to mankind, and the greatest of all new beginnings is the start of life, the gift of a child. A new life literally embodies a fresh start. Each one carries a Divine promise, a God-given purpose. All babies hold within them the potential to positively impact our world. They are the very manifestation of God’s renewal. The mothers of these children are the vessels for this renewal, and they need care and support to navigate through their pregnancies and to raise their children to be all that God intends them to be. St. Gianna’s Place will be a safe harbor for women who don’t have this care and support. By offering them a home, job and life skills training, and emotional support, we hope to provide expectant mothers with a fresh start as they prepare to give birth, the greatest of all new beginnings.
The St. Gianna’s Place team wishes you a Happy New Year. As 2018 unfolds, please keep St. Gianna’s Place in your prayers, asking God to bless this ministry of fresh starts, renewals, and new beginnings.
As Advent approaches, our thoughts are drawn to the baby Jesus and his humble birth in a barn with only a manger, a feeding trough for livestock, as a crib. Growing up, some of us may remember thinking that the innkeeper in Bethlehem was the worst kind of villain for not letting our Savior have a room. How could he let the Son of God be born outdoors with only the presence of cows and a donkey to provide any heat?
The Holy Family could not find an available room anywhere in Bethlehem. They were turned away from a few places before this innkeeper took pity on them and allowed them to stay in his barn. He had no idea that the pregnant girl on the donkey was carrying God’s son, and besides that, his inn was already filled to capacity. The innkeeper gave what little he had to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and as it turned out, it was just enough.
This is a great lesson for all of us at Christmas and throughout the year. God only asks us to do what we can. If what we have to offer isn’t enough, we can trust Him to make up the difference. When we believe that God is working in our lives, we know that He will bless and multiply our offering. We are sinners, requiring a savior, which is why Jesus came to live among us. God knows our nature and loves us anyway. When we fall short, Jesus is there to pick us up and get us where we need to be.
The lowly surroundings where Jesus was born belie the glory of his resurrection 33 years later, the event which gives us eternal life. Although the great star marking the location of Christ’s birth and the gifts he received from the three kings highlight the wonder of his birth, he came into this world simply. And simplicity is what God asks of us. He only asks us to trust Him, believe in His Son, and to do what we can to help others. During this season of wonder and light, may we make Christ’s presence known as we do whatever we can to welcome the stranger, shelter the homeless, and feed the poor.
St. Gianna’s Place’s mission embodies all of that and more. We will welcome pregnant women who need a home. We will offer them job and life skills training so they can better their lives. But most importantly, we will show them God’s love so they will look to the future with a renewed sense of self-worth and hope for themselves and for their children. During this Christmas season, please keep St. Gianna’s Place in your prayers. We thank you for your ongoing financial support as we grow ever closer to opening our doors and helping some of the most vulnerable in our community.
All of us at St. Gianna’s Place wish you and yours a Blessed Advent and a Merry Christmas. May the Peace of Christ be with you at this time and throughout the coming year.
Welcome to the St. Gianna’s Place monthly blog. Each month we will write about a life-affirming topic that highlights God’s love for each of us. Since this is our inaugural installment, we will focus on the first gift that God gives to everyone: the gift of life.
We believe that all people are created in the image and likeness of God, and we believe that this makes human life sacred. Since life is a gift from God, it is to be cherished, protected, and upheld. It is up to all of us to honor this sacred gift by helping to protect the dignity of all human life.
The most vulnerable of human life are the unborn, and in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, the mothers of these babies may also be at risk. When mothers experiencing an unintended pregnancy are young and poor, it is more likely that they will not have adequate pre-natal care, nor the necessary financial and emotional support needed to raise their child in a positive environment. Sometimes, these women are homeless, or likely to become homeless before they give birth. None of these circumstances reflect the sanctity or support the dignity of human life.
Fortunately, God’s love always shows a way forward. In New Hampshire there are currently two homes solely dedicated to pregnant women and their babies. However, in a state with a population of over 1.3 million, there is a need for more housing like this. St. Gianna’s Place will help fill the void. Case studies show that group living that provides job and life skills training, counseling, and emotional support can lift pregnant women in crisis and their babies into a life of success, hope, and joy. They learn important parenting skills and are much more likely to secure a job. Below is a testimonial from a woman who once lived at New Generations in Greenland, NH:
“New Gen is the reason I am where I am. Your services and support got me through a rough patch and helped me with school, and more importantly, encouraged me to be the best I could be.
I have been asked why I so openly admit to having lived “in a shelter” my response is always something of this sort.
‘New gen is not the type of shelter you imagine, they CARE, they help with WAY more than just a place to live. And more importantly they don’t JUDGE. They open their hearts to help, ultimately you get more than just a place to live. They help you get a life.’”
St. Gianna’s Place will be a home where God’s love is manifested and the human dignity of both mother and child is upheld. In addition to job and life skills training, our program will foster self-respect and independence, teach about God’s divine purpose and plan for every person, and bring a renewed sense self-worth to these mothers through community involvement, service to others, and by the love and respect shown to them and their child. Please keep this important ministry in your prayers.