40 Shades of Lent, Ash Wednesday, 26 February 2020
Joel 2:12-18 + + + 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 + + + Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
We begin today the Season of Lent, the 40 days of prayers and fasting, contrition and alms-giving in preparation for Easter Sunday. It is the only season in our liturgical calendar that starts on an ordinary day, Ash Wednesday when we are reminded of that basic truth in life we have always evaded: that we all die and go back to God.
“Remember man that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
In this age of social media where many practically live in media making known to everyone everything happening to them from confinement to hospital to drinking coffee somewhere or simply saying “thank you” to someone just beside for a gift they have received, the more we need this blessed season to recover the essential realities in life like our true self and God.
So unlike Adam and Eve who went into hiding after their fall, modern men and women have shamelessly flaunt everything they think they have that actually indicate what they lack – depth and meaning, sense and respect.
Ash Wednesday enables us to find anew our bearings in life that must be centered in God, our very life and meaning of being and existence.
Life is a daily Lent.
St. Benedict tells his followers in his Rule that “the life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent”. And this is also very true for every Christian who follows Jesus Christ as Lord and Master.
Our life is a daily Exodus from darkness into light, from sin into grace, from failure into victory, from slavery into freedom when we experience the Paschal mystery of Jesus Christ even if we are not aware of it.
And the sooner we become aware of this reality, the better for us because that is when we find more meaning in life, the deeper our existence becomes.
Pope Francis tells us in his Lenten Message this year that “Jesus’ Pasch is not a past event; rather, through the power of the Holy Spirit it is ever present, enabling us to see and touch with faith the flesh of Christ in those who suffer.”
Life is all about God. This life we live is a sharing in his very life and the more are aware of this reality and link, the more we discover its beauty because we get to know God more in Jesus Christ who have come in flesh and blood for us.
“Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”2 Corinthians 5:20
To be reconciled to God is to be one in God in Christ Jesus through daily conversion. This we achieve through the many sacrifices and corporal and spiritual works of mercy during this season. Fact is, these pious practices are meant to be done even outside the Lenten season so we never lose sight that life is all about God, not us.
Lent is a journey into our hearts, and into the heart of God, too!
In these 40 days of Lent, we try little by little to “rend our hearts, not our garments to return to the Lord our God” (Joel 2:13) through prayers and sacrifices. These are done not for others to see but primarily for us to find and meet God waiting for us always to experience his love and mercy, his life and his fullness right in our hearts.
Like in our gospels these past two weeks when we reflected on the “education of the heart”, it is the truth of the heart that is being worked out in Lent. It is our heart that must be strengthened and converted by all these religious practices of the season.
It is in our hearts where God dwells and resides though we often try to bury and disregard.
All these fasting and abstinence, confessions and alms-giving as well as other works of mercy are meant to create a space in our hearts for God and for others. Without the proper attitude in our hearts, everything then becomes a hypocrisy that neither deceives God nor fools humans.
See how Jesus in the gospel which is also a part of his Sermon on the Mount which we have been reflecting these past three Sundays of Ordinary Time have painstakingly reminded us to guard against pleasing humans than God.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”Matthew 6:1
It is not that we are encouraged to give alms, pray and fast to get rewards from God that Jesus is telling us to practice these pieties but in order to be more focused with the Father. Ultimately, getting into heaven is the reason why Jesus came to save us, to assure us of this reward of being with the Father eternally. There is nothing else greater than that.
This is why Lent is all about God, not us.
In our journey to him this season, both as an individual and as a community, Lent enables us to free ourselves from our strong individualistic drives within so we can truly experience conversion in the midst of a community of believers.
The more we see God, we see our sinful selves, and that is when we are converted and renewed in Christ.
This is always marked with a deep realization that we are not alone, that there are also others suffering with whom we must share with God’s rich mercy and love rather than keep these for ourselves alone.
That is what that ash on our forehead reminds us, of God who loves us all, dwelling within each one of us, renewing us, loving us, and most of all, forgiving us. Amen.