Scripture: 1st Reading: Joel2,12-18; Resp. Psalm: Ps51,3-6,12-17; 2nd Reading: 2Cor5,20-6,2; Gosp. Accl.: Ps95,7-8; Gospel: Mt6,1-6,16-18
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent. Our Lent is for forty days, that is, the fast is for forty days, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday. The Sundays of Lent are however excluded from this, that is, they are not days of fasting. Our forty days fast is in imitation of our Lord who fasted forty days and nights before the commencement of His public ministry.
The word of God today invites us to return to our God. Prophet Joel in the first reading tells us that God appeals to us to come back home. We are told that nothing should distract us from this objective. Lamentations and weeping for our sin will turn the eyes of our God towards us to grant us His forgiveness. The time we begin today is God's acceptable time. It is the day of salvation. In today's gospel passage, our Lord gives us the remedy and panacea for our depraved state and the formula for a return to our God: fasting, almsgiving and prayer.
The ashes we use today are from the burnt palm branches we used for Palm Sunday last year. Ashes were used in the Bible to signify deep sorrow, repentance and conversion. They were also used for purification and washing away of dirt. Ashes are put on our foreheads today to remind us of our mortality and fragility, to tell us that we all have shelf lives and expiry dates and that one day we shall give an account of our stewardship. The ashes also call us to purification of our inner lives in preparation for the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.
Lent prepares us for Easter. So the whole purpose of our fasting, abstinence and prayer is for us to encounter the Risen Lord on Easter night, the greatest of all nights, the night of our Passover from sin and death to righteousness and new life.
Lent is a time of purification - the mortification and subjugation often our bodies that bring about their purification and the renewal of the inner selves. The body that leads us to sin is made subject of the spirit.
Lent is a time of conversion. In Lent, we strive to abandon the wrong and sinful ways of our past lives. In the words of Pope Francis in his Lenten message this year, Lent is "a sacramental sign of our sacramental sign of our conversion". Lent summons us, and enables us, to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly and in every aspect of our life." Iniquity, sufferings, trials and tribulations have made our love for God to grow cold.
Lent is a time given to us to consider our ways, examine our lives, reflect on where we are in relation to where we should be. It is a time to come back to the Lord. It is a privileged time of grace. It is a period to reflect on the end times. It is a time to reflect deeply on the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and its implications for each of us.
In the words of Pope Francis in this year's Lenten message, Lent is a time to beware of "momentary pleasures", "dream of wealth", self sufficiency, false prophets who promise us immediate solutions to life's perennial problems. Lent is a time to take a break from the valueless and worthless pursuits of life.
The Season we begin today has three pillars: prayer, almsgiving, penance. Pope Francis in the same message teaches us that "By devoting more time to prayer, we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers. He is our Father and he wants us to live life well."
Going further, "Almsgiving sets us free from greed and helps us to regard our neighbour as a brother or sister. What I possess is never mine alone." With almsgiving, we share our possessions with others and share the love of Christ with them. The people we encounter in this Lenten Season should be accepted and treated with all human dignity and Christian concern.
Thirdly, Pope Francis teaches us further that "Fasting weakens our tendency to violence; it disarms us and becomes an important opportunity for growth. On the one hand, it allows us to experience what the destitute and the starving have to endure. On the other hand, it expresses our own spiritual hunger and thirst for life in God. Fasting wakes us up. It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God, who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger."
Lent entails giving up something, giving in to Christ and His grace which is in superabundance for our lives. It entails self restraint, denying ourselves appetites their stranglehold over our lives and living in freedom once again.
This Lent, we should pay special attention to the word of God, accept its challenges and corrections and give up vices. We should concentrate our attention on the love of God that has grown cold within our hearts and that we have replaced with the love of the world and love of money, convenience, pleasure, selfishness and greed, "spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, constant warring among ourselves, and the worldly mentality that makes us concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal." (Pope Francis)
Lent is also a privileged season for receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We should avail ourselves of every opportunity to celebrate this sacrament in our churches. The Holy Father has enjoined us to use well the "'24 Hours for the Lord' initiative, which invites the entire Church community to celebrate the sacrament of Reconciliation in the context of Eucharistic adoration." The date for this universal initiative is from Friday 9 March to Saturday 10 March. Let us use the opportunity maximally to return to the Lord.
This Lent, we should also participate in stations of the cross. This pious exercise helps to lift our hearts and minds to God in meditation on the suffering and death of His Son and be able to obtain graces for our own spiritual lives. May we use this year's opportunity well for an increase in our faith, hope and love of the Lord who gave us everything.
Let us pray: "Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self restraint." Amen.
May the Living Word of God find a true dwelling place within our hearts and souls today and always. Happy Lenten Season.