Living the Word
Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016
By Msgr. Bernard Bourgeois
Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2;
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." (Jl 2:13)
For the task-oriented personality, Lent is a relatively easy season. The rules are simple. The faithful are asked to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On the Fridays of Lent, one is to abstain from eating meat. Otherwise, the practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are pretty much left up to the individual to decide how in his life he can live these important Lenten traditions. Overall, there is very little in Lent that requires any real work, if the person so interprets Church practices in that way. Today's reading from Joel moves the person away from a checklist of Lenten rules, and more toward the conversion of one's heart.
Lent is the season of internal preparation for that great event of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the most important moment of human history in which God definitively handed the human race salvation through his son, Jesus Christ. He suffered and died that he might identify fully with the suffering and death of humanity. To his cross, the person takes all of his sin and suffering in the search for redemption, forgiveness, and salvation. Jesus breaks the bonds of sin, suffering, and death in his resurrection. While not eliminated from the human race, sin, suffering, and death will not have the final say. Light, peace, and eternal life will be the final chapter! That is the power and glory of the death and resurrection of Jesus, a mystery which should bring tears to the eyes of those who believe. This is what Jesus has done for you. Is there anything more important than salvation? To the foot of the cross, the faithful bring their sin, suffering, and death. To the cross Jesus takes it all. The faithful go there as there is no where else to go. Only in Jesus will they find salvation and hope. The motto of the Holy Cross Fathers says it all: "Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope."
On this Ash Wednesday, the prophet Joel advises his people to "rend [their] hearts…" Change them, make them new, start fresh. These are all possible interpretations of "rending" one's heart. The faithful are asked to do so specifically in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, or generosity. Rending one's heart is real work. A true Lenten journey is not for the faint of heart. In other words, let's make it real!
Prayer is the chief activity of Lent. It is accompanied by fasting and generosity. In fasting, one goes without food or activities in order to realize that it is only Christ who can fill the human person. In giving away time, talent, and treasure, one realizes that Christ and service to his people supersedes everything else. It all leads back to prayer. Fasting and almsgiving will open up time and space for Christ in prayer, if done wholeheartedly.
In conclusion, here are two suggestions for your Lenten prayer. First, spend some time in prayer, very quietly, simply gazing upon a crucifix. See your savior and your Lord on that cross. Know he did this for you. It is for your sin, suffering, and death that he suffered, died, and rose that you might have life. With eyes of faith, see through the cross to the empty tomb. Second, pray over and read the passion and death of Jesus as recounted in the Gospels of Palm Sunday (Lk 22:14- 23:56) and Good Friday (Jn 18:1-19:42). Keep looking at that crucifix while you read the story of the death of Jesus. Read it over and over, slowly and deliberately. In doing so, you will "rend" your heart, and be one with your Lord as he suffered, died, and rose from the dead for you. You will be ready to celebrate the joy of Easter, because you have understood and felt the death of Jesus, which leads up to that great feast. So, let's make this Lent real!
For private reflection …
In addition to the prayer activities mentioned in the column, think of ways your fasting and almsgiving can go beyond the minimum standard so as to aid in your life of Lenten prayer.
The Reverend Monsignor Bernard W. Bourgeois is the pastor of Christ the King Parish, Rutland, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Rutland and St. Patrick Parish, Wallingford, Vermont.