Joel 2: 12-18
2 Corinthians: 20-6:2
Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
“Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” (Joel 2: 2-13)
In the frozen, snowbound Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the celebration of Ash Wednesday goes on. I have been assisting at two Masses, and one service, distributing the ashes; marking each person’s forehead with the sign of the cross (or at least, I am trying to!). Each time, I tell the person: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” I want them to listen to the Good News, and to change their lives. Ashes on the forehead are an ancient symbol of repentance, from the time of ancient Israel, and further back in time. But it is only a symbol, it has no power, it has no meaning, if the recipient does not commit himself or herself to living the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Now this requires change; a change in the way we live our lives. It is a call to enter into a closer, more loving, and deeper relationship with our God. It is a call to let go of our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and reach out the Father; and to reach out to each other, friend and stranger alike. It is a call to let go of the negative self-image we can have of ourselves; and realize that God love us for who and what we are, no matter what. And we are called to reach out to the other wounded persons we meet, and share this Good News, whether by word, or by action.
Lent then, is the season wherein we can enter into a more disciplined way of life, with the aim of growing closer to God. We are encouraged to make even more time for prayer, where we can open our hearts wider, to let God in, so that we can experience that Love that surpasses all other types of love. And as our experience of that Love grows and grows, we are impelled to make more and more room in ourselves for God’s Presence. We need to discover what is our internal clutter, that personal junk, which is getting in our way of loving God. This is where the discipline of fasting comes in, where we can discover what we really need to live, and what we can do without. Where we can discover how it feels to be empty, and ready for Christ to come, and knock at the door of our hearts. And finally, after receiving such a great gift from the Father, we feel the need to share that gift of love with others, others who may be alone, feeling unloved, who believe that they are alone in a cruel, uncaring world. By practicing almsgiving, we learn to reach beyond ourselves, and touch those around us, whether they are family, friends or strangers. And we learn that we are not just called to share from our “surplus,” but to share ourselves totally with others.
The season of Lent has been, is, and always will be an opportunity to deepen our commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. An opportunity and a challenge for all of us. The challenge to grow in our faith; and no matter often we might fail, we will pick ourselves up and begin again. We will not be alone on this Lenten journey, Jesus will be us, inspiring us by His Word, and He strengthens us with His Body and Blood. And on Easter morn, He will be there to welcome us, into a much more wonderful life.