Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18
Today is the beginning of the season of Lent, which will culminate during the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. We call this day “Ash Wednesday” because, traditionally, we do during the Mass the blessing and giving of ashes. This penitential rite reminds us, in a symbolic manner, of our frail, limited human nature and of our great need of God’s mercy and forgiveness. As the minister imposes the ashes on our foreheads, he says either one of the two formulas: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (Mk 1:15) or “Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return (cf. Gen 3:19).
Lent is a 40-day penitential season, but it is not all about human sinfulness. In fact, during this season, the Church would like us to reflect on the unmerited benevolence of God. Our prayer and reflection would reach its climax during the celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ our Lord. By then we will be reminded that God has loved us so much to the point of allowing His only Son to die on the cross in order to save us from death which is the effect of sin. The Lord’s resurrection will renew our hope that someday we all will share eternal life with God in heaven.
The season of Lent provides us with the special opportunity to respond positively to God’s gratuitous offer of love and forgiveness. The first reading reminds us that God “is all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent” (Joel 2:13). In the second reading, Saint Paul appeals that we be reconciled to God because He has already done His part. God in Jesus has entered the sinful human condition in order to help us rediscover the beautiful image that we lost by sinning. The favorable time of salvation is already now, not later. God wants us to leave sin behind and to start walking in His ways.
The gospel mentions three traditional practices of the Lenten season, namely: almsgiving, fasting and prayer. These three are not mere external penitential requirements; rather, they are meant to usher us towards living fully the Christian life.
When we give alms, we are reminded that the goods of the earth are meant for all humanity to enjoy. How conscious are we of the presence of so many poor, hungry, sick people around us? By sharing generously and unconditionally our possessions, we can be the Good Samaritan that Jesus wanted us to become for others.
When we fast, we learn to discipline our natural appetite and desires. Often, we easily give in to our selfish cravings for non-essential things of the world, things that do not truly contribute to our total nourishment and well-being. Naturally, when we deny ourselves of some things, we also save some money. Our fasting becomes more meaningful when we give what we have saved to the poor and the needy.
When we pray intensely and heartily, we become more and more sensitive to the will of God in our lives. Particularly, during the Lenten season, God wants to create a pure heart in us and to renew within us a steadfast spirit. Let us then open our hearts to God’s grace and begin to follow the way of Jesus Christ our Lord!