Brothers and sisters, on this Ash Wednesday we enter a season of penance and mortification for forty days that precede Easter being called to reconcile with God. Through symbolic ashes, we are reminded that we are sinners created from dust always in need of mercy and forgiveness from God cf. Genesis 18:27. To share in his resurrection we have to be cleansed from sin. The spiritual practice of applying ashes to our forehead is a sign of atonement. cf. Jeremiah 6:26. In these forty days, we are reminded to abstain, fast, pray and do acts of charity. This is the opportune time to make our bodies obey our conscience.
First reading: Joel 2:12–18
Through Prophet Joel, the Lord God calls us to return to Him with all our hearts through fasting, weeping and mourning. We are told to split apart our hearts, not clothing. In ancient days many tore their clothing as a sign of repentance. But, while they complied with tarring their clothes their hearts of stone had not changed! Joel invites them to let go of their worldly ways and embrace holiness, practice sincere repentance and changing their hearts. Lent reminds us that God is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and abounding in love. He will not punish us if we are sincere and willing to turn away from sin. He is not a God of punishment but of love.
Prophet Joel insists that holiness is not just for a few people but for all who have faith in God. His message is assembled the aged, gather the children and even the breastfed infants. Joel goes further to propose the impossible that let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her canopy. This is a very powerful command that includes everyone! We all need to beg the Lord for mercy upon humanity. When God relents and forgives, humanity can again inherit the Promised Land as in the time of Abraham. The practice of reminding the Lord God of His promises is to draw His pity upon us who are weak sinners. In doing so He will not forget us and no one will mock us saying, ‘Where is your God‘? For our Lord God keeps His promises. He saves those who walk in righteousness and are in communion with Him. In this era of the joy of the Gospel, we need to gaze our eyes on him who alone can save.
Second reading: 2Corinthians 5:20–6:2
In this reading, St. Paul is appealing to us to be reconciled to God who has sent his only begotten Son to die for us on the Cross. He who was without sin took our place and was treated as a sinner so that we might become righteous in the eyes of God. What a horrible death we deserved; the death that Christ endured for us is beyond telling. All this was possible because of God’s divine love for us. Again today God reminds us that he has heard our cries being raised to him in Heaven and is willing to secure our salvation. Now is the time for us to show our appreciation towards this act of love by walking in righteousness so that we may inherit salvation. This is a wonderful invitation that we should not let pass by us.
Gospel: Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18
How do we walk in righteousness? Jesus answers this question in today’s Gospel that we do so by not continuing to live in our worldly ways but by embracing a spiritual mind and maturing in Christ through his grace. Jesus warns against hypocrisy common to those who want to be pious so that they may be seen by others. He insists that they have already received their rewards through those who admired them instead of the reward from God the Father in Heaven.
During this Lenten Season, our piety must manifest privately as a privileged time between God and ourselves. We must experience a transformation that is beyond mere appearance. This is possible if we walk with Christ daily from the moment we rise up until the time we retire in the evening. Equally, when we sacrifice by giving to the Church or by reaching out to someone in need, our left hand must not know what our right hand is doing. It ought to done privately and then we forget about it. When we are generous in sharing, then generosity will be shown to us in due course. Important instructing is that our right hand must not know what our left hand is doing. Meaning, our right hand is giving while our left hand is waiting to receive its benefit.
If we decide to pray even this should be done in private to avoid those who want to applause. Such behaviour will make us receive earthly rewards from those praising us for our demonstrations. Instead, when we pray, we ought to go into the inner room, close the door and pray to God the Father in private so that he who sees in private will reward accordingly.
When we opt to fast, we do not need to overdo it to the extent that we look weak and sick for others to notice we are fasting. We have to fast to the degree we can manage. We have to always stay cheerful and looking healthy so that no one apart from God will know that we are fasting. Then, God the Father who sees everything in private will reward us. This is intended to assist us to be reconciled to God! The Lenten season is a privileged time when humanity is able to reclaim its lost dignity given the fact that the glory of God is a person who is fully alive.
As we enter the Lenten Season, we need to remember these words and put them into practice. We have to turn back to the Lord with all our hearts, we have to continuously seek reconciliation and we have to do all well and reach out to many quietly because that is what God expects from us. Holiness is not manifested in anger but in joy. Lent teaches us to be joyful through repentance and believing the good news.
Fr Paulino Mondo