Why the best Lenten resolution is to listen more and talk less
St Valentine's Day is associated with flowers, perfume and all sorts of endearments between couples who still prize romance highly, whatever their age.
When I told a friend that I would be in Paris this weekend, he assumed that this would be a journey of romance.
However, I will be with five other rapidly maturing male friends, the group of us resembling Last of the Summer Wine, as we cheer on Ireland against France in the Six Nations Rugby championship.
Whoever wins the big game, our thoughts tomorrow will be returning homewards - even if Paris is one of the best cities in which to celebrate a victory, or a defeat, woe betide.
The lighter side of St Valentine's Day is welcome in a world that is losing much of its romance. Though St Valentine himself was associated since the Middle Ages with a tradition of courtly love, the poor man came to a most unromantic end. He was martyred and beheaded in the 3rd Century AD.
Reality past and present mix somewhat uneasily in the observation of Lent. For many it is a time to try to give up bad habits like smoking, drinking and eating too much.
It is a good time to make a new start, as I am doing in trying to cut down on one of my favourite foods. Even if I fail to keep my promise to myself, it will not change the world. No doubt you may feel the same.
However, there is another, more spiritual, side to Lent. For the Churches it is a time of solemn religious observance, in the approach to Holy Week, and the commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
For believers, it is particularly a time of prayer, repentance and self-denial, though these qualities are observed by many regular church-goers all year round.
However, in the age of mass media, Lent is associated with making a personal pledge, that is not just as simple as going off soft drinks or crisps, but something rather more significant, and leading perhaps to an important change in lifestyle.
In recent weeks, I read a comment from the Rev Steve Stockman, minister of Fitzroy Presbyterian Church who, with Fr Martin Magill of the Sacred Heart Parish, founded and continues to sustain the successful annual 4 Corners Ecumenical Festival in Belfast.
The theme for this year's programme was "the art of listening", a topic about which Steve Stockman spoke most thoughtfully.
He said: "In this wee country we talk a lot, shout a lot, make a lot of speeches, preach a lot. We always seem ready with our answers before we even hear the questions." He said that we all need to learn "the spiritual art of listening, to our neighbours, to strangers, to the city, to God and our future."
How right he is. We all wish that our politicians would listen before speaking out, and that we ourselves would listen more to our family and friends, and they to us. Of course, we usually blame somebody else, but how often have you and I spluttered out something before listening properly beforehand, and therefore hurting someone close to us, and in the process hurting ourselves?
Perhaps the best resolution you and I could make during Lent is to listen more and to talk less. If we do that, each of us, and those whom we meet in our daily journey of life, might be all the better for it.