13 February. Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18. Joel urges his people to repent, something like what we are celebrating here and now.
2 Cor 5:20-6:2. Christ has reconciled us with God, and calls each of us to a personal conversion.
Matt 6:1-6, 16-18. In good works, like almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, the aim must be to please God.
First Reading: Joel 2:12-18
Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your clothing.
Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God.
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'”
Then the Lord became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.
Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!
Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said: “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.
“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
We may wish to encourage the congregation to some works of prayer and penance at the outset of Lent. It is well to underline the meaning of penance as an impetus of renewal, rather than urging feats of heroic endurance during the seven weeks starting today. The New Testament notion of penance (metanoia) implies a basic change of outlook, a turning away from selfishness, a generous, other-centred attitude. Penance has often been preached as something one achieves by sheer will-power. Rather we need to encourage the Christian community to recognise and limit the influences within ourselves that hinder our love for God and neighbour. Penance is the reverse side of love, repenting our inability to love adequately and our innate selfishness. In our sinful world penance is an opening-out to the fulness of God’s love.
As Lent begins may wish to reflect on our Baptism as a sharing in the cross and resurrection of Jesus. Our lives have been sealed by Christ’s cross and all our growing in the image of God has an aspect of dying to self and another aspect of rising to God’s new life of love. The seed of this movement or growth was planted in us when we were first reconciled to God in the sacrament of our rebirth.
Our reconciliation with God means reaching out towards and coming to terms with the ground of all reality. Growing intimate with God involves a right attitude to created goods, neither despising them nor treating them as ends in themselves. The goodness of created reality is clearly proposed in the first reading. Perhaps in appreciating our created world in a proportionate way we are called to a continuous repentance and to a practical living out of our Baptism. Lent can be seen as a season when we are challenged anew to measure up to the call of God in all aspects of life and to open ourselves to the power of the life available to us in the Paschal mystery.
Lent, Season and Spirit
Someone said that Christianity is not so much a religion as a relationship. In his book The Eternal Year Karl Rahner wrote that for modern people Lent begins before Ash Wednesday and goes on long after Easter Sunday. Lent is not so much a season as a spiritual condition of yearning for God, even when in our secular culture God seems so far away. So let’s try during this Lenten season to narrow the distance if only a little – to inch closer to Christ in our thoughts, our prayer and our love. A way of regarding Lent is that it is the season of Christ made near. If we can draw closer to him during the coming weeks, then this year’s Lent will have been well worthwhile, like a new springtime in our lives.