A little boy had just returned home from an Ash Wednesday church service. The little girl from next door asked him what the smudge was on his forehead. He replied, "It's Ash Wednesday." "What's Ash Wednesday?" she asked. "Oh," he replied, "It's when Christians begin their diet."
Lent, our annual retreat is forty days of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday. It invites us to keep a diet for spiritual, physical, emotional, and intellectual health. Last year, our Lenten season and celebration of Holy week were in total isolation. As we begin our Lenten season still there are uncertainties and not fully out of the pandemic, but we have hope soon to be out of these hard times. Pope Francis in his 2020 Holy Week message said, “Let us try, if we can, to make the best use of this time: let us be generous. Let us help those in need in our neighborhood. Let us look out for the loneliest people, perhaps by telephone or social networks. Let us pray to the Lord for those who are in difficulty in Italy and in the world.”
Lent is a time to revisit our quality/ability to reach out in love. Reach out demands love which leads to sacrifice. God, himself, gave us a true model to reach out to. Because of love for humanity, God left His glory and became a vulnerable being like one of us. We see the culmination of His love in the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. This is the point of mediation for lent.
In the first reading on Ash Wednesday we read from the book of Joel, “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…” Lent asks us to come closer to God. The Gospel of Matthew tells us the means to reach the goal: Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
Prayer: We devote ourselves to prayer: in personal prayer, participating in weekend Mass, and if our schedules allow, attend weekday Mass. If you are not able to in person, we do Livestream Mass and Rosary through Facebook and YouTube.
Fasting: Fast from anything that harms us and others. It could be food or other things, habits, or situations. When we fast from something, the outcome of the fasting is to use it to reach out to others. Suppose one is going to reduce the amount of time from watching TV, use that extra time to reach out to someone. There the fasting becomes healthy and meaningful.
Almsgiving: Freeing ourselves from greed and helping others. It can be through prayers, inviting others to pray at Mass, spending time with others, and/or giving financial help.
Lent, in a sense, is a time to die, so we can rise with Christ at Easter with a new spirit of life. Take inspiration for your Lenten journey from prayer and the reading of Scripture, to fasting and to giving alms. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during this season to die and rise with a healthy body, mind, and soul.
“O God, Creator of us all,
From whom we came, to whom we go,
You look with pity on our hearts,
The weakness of our wills you know.” (This is part of the evening prayer for Ash Wednesday)