Ash Wednesday, February 17
May Our Lent Truly Be a Time of Interior Transformation, As We Journey with Christ Over the Next Forty Days in His Assent to Calvary.
“…return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning” – words which we find in our First Reading today from the Book of the Prophet Joel, words which speak to us of repentance and a transformation of heart and soul.
Today we observe Ash Wednesday, a day which marks the beginning of the Lenten Season – for Lent is a time of prayer, a time of fasting and penance in preparation for the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
It is also a time of transition, a time for setting our spiritual house in order, a time for molding and shaping who we are as a Christian people. Lent is a time for dying to self, so that we may live more fully in Christ Jesus, who suffered and died and rose to new life – so that you and I, redeemed and restored, may live as His people here on Earth and, with the help of His grace, forever with Him as co-heirs in His Heavenly Kingdom.
During this time of the Liturgical year, you and I are called to meditate upon the sufferings and Passion of Jesus Christ, as well as upon our own sufferings, and how we might better become beneficiaries of the grace which God wishes to bestow upon each of us.
Today, we hear in our First Reading God speaking to His children through His prophet, “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.”
As I had mentioned, Lent is a time of transition, a time during which we open our hearts and return to the God who has given to each of us the gift of life, who has bestowed upon you and me a part of Himself, our immortal soul, and who invites us to have a share in His Divine Life for all eternity.
This period of transition is also a time of preparation for those who will enter the living waters of Baptism at the Easter Vigil. And for those of us who have been baptized for many years, Lent becomes a preparation for the renewal of our own baptismal promises.
We read from the Fifty-first Psalm today, “Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me.”
What does it take for each of us to reject sin in our daily life, with all of its seductive pleasures? What does it take for you and me to reject the glamour of evil? What does it take for us to reject the empty promises made to us by the father of lies and the prince of darkness?
By virtue of Original Sin, our human nature is weak and frail. The glamour of evil and the seductions of this world constantly assail our senses; and, as James tells us in his Letter to the early Christian communities, “…each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.”
But he also writes, “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proven he will receive the crown of life…”
It is only when you and I empty from ourselves the desires of the flesh – fame, fortune, power, immorality – all that would separate us from God’s Love – and in humble supplication, seek His help to assist us with His grace, enabling us and strengthening us to defend ourselves against Satan and all his empty promises, that we truly begin to live a more loving and holy relationship with our Most Merciful and Loving Lord.
Lent calls out to each of us and reminds us of our fallen nature, and how dependent we truly are upon God’s immeasurable Love and Mercy. The ashes that we receive today call us to sorrow and repentance, reminding us of our sinful nature. But they also call us to hope in the Loving Mercy which is God’s, and which He wishes to extend to each of us.
It is Jesus who calls us today to follow Him, to come close to Him, to live in Him and make Him present in our world. He stands by us to strengthen and nourish us with His own Body and Blood, giving us the gift of His own Divine Life, shaping us and molding us, washing us clean – so that we may truly be His, now and forever!
This journey of faith for each of us is a pilgrimage in which we are each called to holiness. It is a pilgrimage in which we are each called into a righteous relationship with our God. And Lent becomes that time of year in which we reflect upon this journey and who we are as a people of faith, and what our faith truly means to us.
In this process, we ask ourselves, “Who is Jesus Christ and how does His Presence truly impact my way of life – in the way I think, in the way I act and relate to others?”
It is only when we are truly ready to transform our hearts that the Holy Spirit will guide us in the ways of truth and holiness. It is only when we begin to recognize our unworthiness that God’s grace will begin to transform us interiorly, so that we may begin the process of growing to become more Christ-like in all that we think, in all that we say and do.
For thousands of years, the Jewish people considered prayer, fasting and almsgiving as the “cardinal works” of the religious life. These were seen as the key signs of a pious person, the three great pillars upon which a holy life was based.
And in today’s Gospel, Jesus pointed to the heart of the matter: Why do we pray, fast and give alms? To draw attention to ourselves so that others may notice and think highly of us? – Or do we embrace these “cardinal works” to give glory to God?
Our Lord warns His disciples against the pitfall of self-seeking glory – that preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise from others in one’s growth to holiness. True piety is something more than feeling good or looking holy. True piety is a deeply interior and loving devotion to God. It is an attitude of awe, reverence, worship and obedience – an interior disposition of humility which only God truly sees.
It is a transformation in which the Holy Spirit enables us, both you and me, to devote our lives to God with a holy desire to please Him, and only Him, in all things. Jesus taught His disciples then, and He teaches us today, “…when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
As we discern our own life of faith and the journey upon which we are traveling, we need to ask ourselves the questions: “Is it our desire to grow in our love for God and for our neighbor?” “Is it our desire to seek him expectantly in prayer, with fasting, and in generous giving to those in need?”
Our reflection upon the answers we give to these questions speak to who we are as a Christian people, for we are to be guided by the sure reward which Jesus points out to his disciples. And that reward is communion with God, our Most Loving Father in Heaven. For in Him alone do we find the fullness of life, happiness and truth!
Saint Augustine wrote in his autobiographical work Confessions – “When I am completely united to you, there will be no more sorrow or trials; entirely full of you, my life will be complete.” And when we are “completely united” to God, we come to the realization that you and I are made to live in communion with God in Whom we find true happiness.
And our Lord wants to renew us in His Love each day, and give us new hearts filled with love and compassion!
The forty days of Lent can become our annual retreat with God, in imitation of the forty days which Jesus spent in the desert. These next forty days can become our journey with the Lord as a special season of prayer, fasting, almsgiving and repentance, as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the great Feast of Easter, the culmination of the Christian Passover – the Feastday which can truly take away our sorrows, wipe away our tears, and fill us with an enduring and lasting hope for our own personal Easter one day!
For, as Saint Paul reminds us today, “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
May our Lent truly be a time of transition, a time of interior transformation for our hearts and our souls, asking the Spirit of Love to fill us with a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervent charity and a truly deep love for our personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
May this time of preparation be a time in which God’s Spirit will work within us, helping each of us to grow in our intimate and loving relationship with the Son of God who became man for our sake, who freely suffered and gave up His Life for you and me – so that we may have life with Him, and that we may have it abundantly for all eternity!
God’s Love has worked miracles in the hearts of many throughout the course of human history. May His Love truly work miracles within each of us, as we journey with Christ over these next forty days in His assent to Calvary, and the inestimable glory which follows!
May God bless you, God love you, and may God always keep you. †
Please Comment, Like and Share, and Suggest to your Facebook friends – to spread the message of God’s Merciful Love.
Por favor Comente, Le Gusta y Comparta, y Sugiera a tus amigos en Facebook – en difundir el mensaje del Misericordioso Amor de Dios.
Scripture for the Day
- “…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. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” (Joel 2:12-13)
- “Have mercy on me, God, in accord with your merciful love; in your abundant compassion blot out my transgressions. Thoroughly wash away my guilt; and from my sin cleanse me.” (Psalm 51:3-4)
- “…each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)
- “Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proven he will receive the crown of life…” (James 1:12)
- “…when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” (Matthew 6:17-18)
- “For [God] says, ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2)
- “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
- “I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.” (Matthew 9:13c)
- “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away, and that the Lord may grant you times of refreshment…” (Acts 3:19-20a)
Prayer for the Day
“Father in Heaven,
the Light of Your Truth bestows sight
to the darkness of sinful eyes.
Protect us in our struggle against evil
and make this day holy by our self-denial.
“May this season of repentance
bring us the blessing of Your forgiveness
and the gift of Your Light in our daily walk of faith.
“We humbly pray,cf. Prayer for Ash Wednesday
please grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”