40 Shades of Lent, Ash Wednesday, 06 March 2019
Joel 2:12-18///2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2///Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Life is a daily Lent. According to St. Benedict, every day we go on our own “exodus” or “crossing over” – a pasch – from sinfulness to holiness, from slavery to freedom, from darkness to light; hence, Lent, like life, is a journey.
But, as a journey, Lent is more about direction than a destination. It is a journey with Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. It is a journey that begins right inside our hearts.
“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 2:12-13)
In the gospel, Jesus stressed to us the importance of this inner journey into one’s heart:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.” (Mt.6:1)(Mt.6:1)
The 40 days of Lent that begin today in our celebration of Ash Wednesday are not mere number of days to be followed but signify to us perfection which is an ongoing process in life. During the early days of Christianity, all baptisms took place on Easter and the 40 days of Lent (cuaresma) were spent preparing candidates for Baptism. It still remains the key point in this sacred season that during the Easter celebrations, we renew our baptismal promises which we continue to do daily by renewing our faith in God, rejecting temptations of the devil by choosing and doing what is good. The practices of fasting, alms giving, and contrition for sins help us in staying on course in the direction of Christ.
Why do I say direction of Christ, not destination of Christ?
So often we live our lives following a destination. In this age of WAZE and GPS, we can easily seek directions to a particular destination. Focus is more on the destination, not really the directions. Problem with being focused more on destination is we miss the fun and adventure of every journey. When we reach our destination, what do we do? We cross out from our list of travel goals every destination that we make and start looking for new places to visit until we have been to every place on earth! So, we plan to visit the Moon or Marss next? Eventually we get tired with travels and after covering so many distances and destination, we still feel lacking or incomplete.
Just like in life. We set goals which is very important but not everything. First we set our sights to finishing studies like a destination to reach. After graduation, we start a career or a job. We just keep on creating new goals, new destinations, raising our bars further that after proving how good we are, we are still empty. There is no more destination to go to that we confront ourselves with the existential question, is this really what I need most in life? Is this all?
“Ito na nga ba? Dito ba talaga ako?”
When we see life more as directional like in Lent which we celebrate every year and its spirit we live daily, it does not really matter what God wants me to do or if this is what He really wants from me. To see life more as a direction means to find its meaning in God that we keep on maturing, we keep on sustaining our journey in Him and with Him. It does not matter wherever He leads me or where I go or stay. No need to face the dilemma of “should I stay or should I go” because what matters most is I am in and with God.
Lent is entering God in and through Jesus Christ. It is going back to Him, staying in Him and with Him in love. This is the reason why we fast, we empty ourselves even our sights and other senses so that we become more sensitive to God’s presence. Notice how our churches and the liturgy are very plain and simple: no flowers, no decors, no Alleluia, no Gloria. Everything is bare essential so we are not distracted in finding and following God right in our hearts.
Recall the first time you fell truly in love when you see and hear and even smell your beloved everywhere and in everyone. You think every lady you meet is your beloved one like in the song “You Are Everything, and Everything Is You” by the Stylistics. When we truly love, the time and place are no longer important because all we have are the here and the now together.
Oh how easy to say we love God or somebody! But if we try to probe deeper into ourselves, we find that we have not truly loved God or anyone that much because in many instances, we always prevail over them. We choose our own will than God’s or our beloved’s. That is when we sin as we turned away from God and our beloved, changing our direction in life.
Lent is the wonderful season of finding again our direction in life, our true love, God. Love needs no justifications. And we can only love persons, not things. To be able to truly love, we first need to be “reconciled with God” (2 Cor.5:20) which this holy season of Lent offers us in prayers and liturgy. The beauty of finding our life direction in God this Lent is that it is not just a personal journey but a communal one as well. When you find your direction, you find God. If you truly find God as your direction, you would surely meet and find your neighbors.
And that is when you find joy and peace.
And that is Easter, the direction and ultimate destination of every Lent and life.