(Jl 2:12-18; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)
Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent. Today we are reminded that sin does indeed exist and exists in a very real way. If we are to see God we are told that we must first turn away from sin and repent before God our Savior. Sin is something that puts weight onto the soul. Our souls become heavy, burdened down with sorrow unable to Love God with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind. We begin to love ourselves more than we love our neighbor. The most important thing that we do during Lent is to recognize the sins that we have committed before God and to ask for his forgiveness which he gives to us in the person of Jesus Christ. For Jesus was made like us in every way except sin so that by his sufferings our sins may be washed clean by the blood of the lamb. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb, you taught me wisdom in that secret place” (Ps 51:5-6). So Lent is that time when we can return to God. To place all of our transgressions in front of him and cry out in mercy. God will hear the pleas of those who seek him entirely. He will not forget the promise he made to Abraham when he told him that he will make of him a great nation and will bless those who bless you.
Ash Wednesday is typically know as a day of repentance. The dusting of ashes is a reminder to the faithful that, “Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.” As a nurse working in a nursing home I would always look forward to Ash Wednesday. The priests and other clergy would come in, say the blessing and offer the distribution of ashes on the forehead. Some folks would accept this offering and others would simply say, “No thanks.” I went up to one of the Jewish ladies and asked her what the ashes meant to her. She replied, “Nothing in life is free, except for the act of forgiveness and I don’t mind giving it when I receive it from someone else.” It’s amazing how much you can learn from those who have lived life. From those who have experienced all that life has to offer. They will tell you that the most important thing in life are the people we share life with. How we love others reflects how we love God. For when we love each other, we love the Christ that resides in all of us. What then is the quest of the human experience. We all seek to be happy. People above all desire peace. In today’s modern society we often look for happiness from what the world gives us. We want to have the latest, the newest, and the fastest device on the market. We rush to be first in line to acquire these objects that fill the holes in earth of our daily lives. We focus our gaze on the latest fashions. We want to and we desire to possess the beauty that is beholden beneath the senses of our perception. But none of these things possess the inner beauty of God’s grace which transfigures the soul into the image and likeness of the Christ inside. Saint Augustine writes in his Confessions, “My temporal life was totally unsettled, and my heart had yet to be cleansed of the old leaven. The Way, which is our Savior Himself, pleased me, but I did not as yet have the courage to venture forth upon so narrow a path.” Sin therefore is any act which causes the eyes of the soul to turn outward into the dust of the flesh. Penance is that act which turns ones preoccupation with the ’self’ to one of reconciliation with God. To find the peace that comes from living with Christ.
Lent is not just a time for prayer, fasting, and alms-giving as the prophet Joel writes, “Even Now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning, Render your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.” It is a time for reflection about how God is working in the world to establish the Kingdom of Heaven. Pope Benedict XVI announced that the message for this Lenten season should be one of, “concern for others, communion, compassion, and fraternal sharing of the sufferings of those in need.” One would have to be blind not to notice all of the needless suffering going on in today’s world. From the unrest in the middle east, to the bloodshed in Syria, to the banking crisis in Europe, to the unemployment level in the United States, to the growing number of poor on a global level, to the total disrespect of human life from beginning to its natural end, we are facing a human crisis like that we have never seen before. We are going down a road that leads out of the Garden of Eden to the desert of temptation and greed. We must stand up and work together as one Body that shares in the life of Christ to plant the seeds of equality and justice for our brothers and sisters all over the world. Our Blessed Father goes on to write that, “When the call to communion is denied in the name of individualism, it is our humanity that suffers, deceived by the impossible mirage of a happiness obtainable alone.” This is why we need each other. A house divided cannot stand. We are our own worst enemy. If we can leave behind our selfishness and the differences that separate us we can erase that line drawn in the sand. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Brothers and Sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled with God.”
Our concern as one Church during Lent should be going out to meet the suffering Christ in the world. With the love of Christ that resides in us we can help to stop the bleeding of the world with compassion, not hatred and scorn for our fellow man. It is folly to think that God is not present in the world because we make God present when we act according to his word. The evil in the world caused by human sin can be healed by the saving cross of our Lords resurrection. We must turn ourselves over in haste to God in our prayers of supplication. We must prepare the way by working to create a temple that is holy and acceptable unto God (Rom 12:1). It is prayer that is done in faith that is seen and heard. For it says in Matthew, “When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden”(Mt 6:17). God resides in the hearts of the faithful, who keep his commandments and lives according to his will. His will is that we should become one family united by his divine grace. Father in heaven, we know that you become present in the world by our works of faith, we ask that you keep us free from sin and walk humbly before you in penance so that by the light of your Son we may live in peace. Amen.
– Jesse Darnell Augustine Pellow, Postulant T.O.R.