Scripture: Lectionary # 220 for Ash Wednesday. Joel 2:12-18. Psalm
51:3-4,5,6ab,12-13,14.17. II Cor. 5:20-6:2. Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
New beginnings are possible for us as we start another Lent with Ash
Wednesday, March 9, 2011. Easter Sunday will have us celebrate the
Resurrection of Jesus our Savior and Teacher. Ash Wed. helps us to focus
on the Mystery of Jesus which is the Paschal Mysteries developed through
our daily readings and in our participation in the Eucharist as often as we
can. These mysteries are his life, sufferings, death, and resurrection;
his glorification at the right hand of God is also part of these mysteries.
We do well to keep the Passion, Death, and Resurrection in mind and memory
during these days of Lent.
In a practical way the Gospel for today gives us a lead as to how to do
something spiritual for Lent. Three simple words from the Sermon on the
Mount are given to us by Jesus: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (sharing of
our goods). They are also three of the five pillars of Islam and are part
of the Jewish practices handed down to us from Jesus. In a sense we are to
put on the Lord Jesus Christ and daily die to some of our selfish motives,
sensual desires and acts, and anything whereby we hurt our neighbor by
word, deed, or action. The commandments are always there for us as a quick
review of the more important responsibilities toward God and neighbor.
Each year the Church gives us the same readings for the Lenten days. This
does not mean we are to be in a rut with our understanding and embracing
their message. Each Lent should see us being more mature and integrated in
our spiritual life and its practices. If we are the same as last year
regarding the readings and the practices, we need to give some extra effort
this year so as to make progress in our growth into the Lord Jesus Christ.
Joel always is a clarion call to wake up and to pray, fast, and to give of
ourselves. It is a prophetic announcement that helps us make of the ashes
we see a symbol of our willingness to die to self a little each day. We
are again introduced by the readings to our ancestors who enjoyed the
covenant and the message of God’s loving-kindness (hesed) and truth
(emeth). Our openness of heart should match theirs so that we can
experience the compassion and tenderness of God. We do this in a spirit of
renewal and reconciliation with those we have hurt by word or deed.
Jesus summons us to be reasonable about our prayer and fasting. He always
frames his sermons with the bigger picture of God’s love and we can get to
know that love by being charitable and loving toward others and also loving
ourselves as God would have us do. The Mysteries of Christ are that
framework for this Lent. They will help us make sense of a new way of
praying, fasting, and giving of ourselves. Amen.