ASH WEDENSDAY - C - 16 - A Lenten Meditation
In today’s first lesson the prophet Joel announces God’s desire that we “return” to him with all our heart which implies that we have turned away from God, and our turning back to God cannot be half way but all the way; with our whole heart.
God anxiously awaits our “return” as did the father in Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son. He awaits with open and outstretched arms to those who come to Him with broken and contrite hearts seeking His mercy and forgiveness.
St. Paul, likewise, entreats us in today’s Epistle to be “reconciled” to God implying that a broken relationship exists that is in need of mending; one that will require forgiveness on God’s part, and confession and amendment of life on our part if we are to be truly reconciled to Him.
To be reconciled to God; to return to God, means we have to be willing to make the move toward God, acknowledging not only our sinfulness but our need of Him.
Such a move will call for our lamenting our sins and admitting our having falling short of His expectations of us as his beloved children. It also means that we must be willing to humble ourselves by not only asking for God’s forgiveness, but the grace to overcome our sins in order to live the new life to which we have been called in Christ Jesus, Our Lord.
In today’s gospel, Jesus teaches us what true piety, that is, covenant behavior, consists of - a right motive. We are to pray, fast, and give alms simply for God’s eyes only. If they are done with an eye on the audience they are done for the wrong reason. Giving money to those in need, praying to God day by day, and fasting as a spiritual discipline when done simply to and for God alone brings the reward of knowing God.
As today’s readings remind us of the reason for Lent the ashes of Lent remind us of our mortality and our penitence. They remind us of our continual need to renew our faith. They remind us of who we are and to whom we ultimately belong.
When I think of ashes I am reminded of the times when as a young boy I was allowed to clean out the fireplace in my grandmother’s country home with one of those little tin shovels and place them in a bucket to be carried outside. I was instructed to spread them in the garden area for when the spring comes, she would say, they will help to bring new growth.
When I think of ashes I am reminded of the times I have walked through blackened forests following a fire; one either sparked by lightening or a controlled burn that leaves the forest floor covered in ankle deep soot; a depth of ashes that will give way to new growth and a renewal of life once they are washed away.
The ashes on our foreheads this day are a mark of our mortal nature and a reminder of our need of repentance as we begin again this Lenten journey in which we will follow the footsteps of Jesus from Galilee to Jerusalem and the cross.
Lent is a season of the Church’s year, but the Lenten journey of self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial, is one we travel throughout our earthly life. Throughout the journey the focus should be both on the cross, the price that was paid for our sins, and the empty tomb - the promise of new life.
Lent is not a time, then, to be preoccupied with the what ifs of the past, that is, with our past sins and offenses, although the Lenten season gives us time to reflect on them, as well as acknowledge them before the God of all mercy, rather Lent calls us to be forward looking.
This season of repentance and re-conversion of the heart should not invite us to discouragement and despair - the preoccupation of a soul obsessed with guilt, but rather for profound optimism in this season that will see, even in nature, a spring-time renewal; a bursting forth of new life.
What we anticipate during this season of penitence and renewal is the greatest victory of life over death. What we foster in our efforts to observe a holy Lent, to which the Church now invites us, is the growth that can occur when the ashes of sin and guilt, that prevent new life, have been washed away by the God of all mercy.
It is His perfect Love, remission and forgiveness that is manifested for the whole world to see on the hardwood of the cross in the outstretched arms of Him who died and rose again, even Jesus Christ, Our Savior. AMEN+