Pope Francis writes about Dante Alighieri’s description of hell in his Lenten message. He says, “Dante pictures the devil seated on a throne of ice, in a frozen and loveless isolation.” Pope Francis continues, “We might well ask ourselves how it happens that charity can turn cold within us. What are the signs that indicate that our love beginning to cool? …Love can also grow in our own communities. In the Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I sought to describe the most evident signs of this lack of love: selfishness and spiritual sloth, sterile pessimism, the temptation to self-absorption, concerned only for appearances, and thus lessens our missionary zeal.”
Then the Pope tries to answer a question: “What are we to do?” He says, “Perhaps we see, deep within ourselves and all about us, the signs I have just described. But the Church, our teacher, along with the often bitter medicine of the truth, offers us in the Lenten season the soothing remedy of prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”
The readings for Ash Wednesday resound with the Pope’s message. In the first reading, the prophet Joel insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply sorrow for our sins. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
St. Augustine of Hippo tells us that there are two kinds of people and two kinds of love: “One is holy, the other is selfish. One is subject to God; the other endeavors to equal Him.” Every day we are challenged about what we love and how we love.
Ash Wednesday is the Church’s ‘Day of Atonement’. It is not only the first of the forty days of Lent, but along with Good Friday, the Church describes it as a day of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during this season. We are called to journey with the Lord in this special season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as we prepare to celebrate the feast of Easter, the Christian Passover, we too, must follow in the way of the cross in order to share in the victory of Christ's death and resurrection.
What do we do in this Lent?
Prayer: We devote ourselves in prayer: in personal prayer, participating weekend Mass, and if our schedules allow, attend weekday Mass.
Fasting: Fast from anything that harms ourselves and others. It could be food or other things, habits, or situations.
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.