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Beginning the Road of Lent
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Jesus said to his disciples: “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But 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. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Opening Prayer: Lord Jesus, today I begin my Lenten journey. I will seek to please you and you alone with my sacrificial commitments. Help me to persevere during this time. I know that I am weak and subject to temptation. Fill my soul with your fortitude, so that I can make these resolutions truly an act of love to you.
- Remembering That We Are Dust: From of old, ashes have been a sign of humility and repentance. In the book of Jonah, the whole city of Nineveh put on sackcloth and sat in ashes, hoping this would move God to mercy. Repentance begins with remembering who we are without God. The words of the priest when he is administering the ashes help us to recall our lowly origins. God takes that dust and breathes life into it, with the unbelievable gift of the infused immortal soul. As we begin Lent, we cultivate a deep humility, realizing that God’s gifts are the source of whatever good we have and are.
- Penance That Isn’t Hypocritical: The Gospel has a salutary warning. An occupational hazard for Christians is hypocrisy. We fall into hypocrisy when appearances are cultivated but the heart remains unconverted. We reduce the act of receiving ashes to an empty rite if we don’t embrace their meaning with our whole heart. May our humble and considerate love of others speak louder than even the ashes on our foreheads.
- The Father Who Sees: Ultimately, our deeds must be for God and not for others. During this Lent, we have a wonderful opportunity to make resolutions and offer sacrifices of various kinds, but above all, let us go to our inner room to pray. We need to connect to the Father who sees us always and wants us to put all our love and effort into our relationship with him. Jesus speaks, too, about a reward: “Your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” There is no greater reward than simply being close to him!
Conversing with Christ: Jesus, I thank you for these ashes, a reminder today of my lowliness. May they stir in my soul feelings of remorse for my sins and faults, but with total confidence that you are giving me the grace of repentance. Lord, cleanse my heart and make it more like yours!
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will offer my Lenten resolutions for my concrete intentions, but, above all to grow more in love with you.
For Further Reflection: Father in heaven, protect us in our struggle against evil. As we begin the discipline of Lent, make this season holy by our self-denial. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever (Opening Collect, Ash Wednesday Liturgy).
Written by Father Steven Reilly, LC.