Scripture: Lectionary for Ash Wed. #220. Feb.22. Joel 2:12-18. Psalm 51: 3-4.5-6,12-13.14.17. II Corinthians 5:20-6:2. Matthew 6:1-6,16-18:
Each year we hear or read the same Lenten readings. They are part of the long tradition of the Church to keep them the same. Yet, we find ourselves ready to accept them in a new way as we begin this Lent. Our desire to be better and to change some of our patterns in behavior are part of our inner acceptance of this season of renewal and denial of some of our selfishness. The symbol of ashes helps us call to mind that we are created in the love of God and are redeemed in that love. “There is a time for being born and a time for dying.”
Lent calls us to be open to some creative ways of changing ourselves for the good of others and for our own progress in the spiritual life. Joel is the alarm which wakes us up to looking at fasting while realizing the blessings of God: “Rend 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.” From Psalm 51—one of the greatest of psalms—we are helped to pray our repentance and to enter into Lent with a new desire within our hearts. From Paul we hear another clarion cry:”Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation.”
Matthew’s image of Jesus is that of a great teacher just like Moses was. We learn much about how to observe Lent from passages taken from the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are seen within the bigger picture of the sermon and the context of Matthew’s spirit of teacher-disciple. We do not take the three actions of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting lightly, nor do we display our good works and prayers to be seen by others. We do Lent quietly and without ostentation.
Meditating and rereading the Sermon on the Mount gets us into the spirit of Lent and helps us to change and to become disciples of Jesus our Master Teacher. We may wish to meditate on this sermon while reading it attentively and slowly in these opening days of Lent. We will find ourselves enjoying the blessings and graces of God while making our daily activity, ministry, and work more enjoyable. Amen.
Lenten Meditation 2:
Blessed William Joseph Chaminade (1761-1850) had a saying that can motivate our forty days of Lent. He said, “The essential is the interior.” The liturgical readings are about the essential and go to the heart of each of us who are eager to follow Jesus more closely during this sacred season. All of today’s liturgical readings go directly to the human heart. Joel encourages us to return to the Lord with all our heart. The powerful expression in Joel for doing this is “Theshuvah” from the verb Shuv which means to turn completely around (and thus to face God). The word is associated with confessing our faults and sins on the Day of Atonement and in our Christian and Catholic religion it means that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the closest we come to the Jewish celebration of Yom Kippur.
Jesus in the most Jewish of Gospels, that of Matthew, is encouraging us in his sermon to look deeply into our hearts and to do penance by fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
Paul tells us to become ambassadors of God’s reconciliation and God’s love for all of us. Everything thus starts this Lent from a change of heart that is shown in our love for one another and our sincerity in good works. Amen.