Today is Ash Wednesday, and we begin our Lenten pilgrimage that will bring us from "Ashes to Easter". Remember that I have suggested adopting penitential practices for Lent, not just giving something up. Well, I have been resolved to start a daily blog for the longest time and the discipline required to do it on a daily basis has eluded me. So I had decided several days ago that this was worthy of Lent. I will try to share my Lenten homilies and thoughts and invite you to consider them as part of your journey in faith.
Sometimes you hear people speak disparagingly about the so called "A and P" Catholics -- the ones who only come to Church to receive Ashes today and Palm on Palm Sunday. Others notice that Mass attendance increases on Christmas and Easter as well, with people coming who do not do so on a weekly basis.
I love the "A and P" Catholics and those who only make it to Mass on Christmas and Easter! There is something so special about these days that it tugs at something way down deep inside us all and makes us want to be there, makes us want to visit "home" again. This can be just a great time to reach out to our sisters and brothers who perhaps would like to be with us every week, but something is keeping them away. Perhaps they had a bad experience with a priest, which could range from the horrible crime of sexual abuse or perhaps the far more common "I could not believe that Father spoke to me that way! I'll never go back to Church." Equally possible, a problem with God's Commandments, Church teaching, the Sacrament of Penance(Confession), a civil marriage, a divorce. You could continue the list as well as I, and it would go on and on and on! But they come "home" on these days! They may not be able to receive Holy Communion but the come to receive what they can, Ashes and Palm.
In English, we call the "Season of the Forty Days" Lent, and Old English word for "springtime" coming as it does as the days are beginning to "lengthen(or lenthen)" as we move into Spring. When you think about springtime, it's all about energy. Life coming back to trees and plants that will soon be green again. It's a time of joyous expectation in the world and so it should be in the Church!
Although it is a penitential season, it's not a sorrowful season. If you went to Mass or a Service of the Word today to receive ashes you heard a great reading from the prophet Joel (Chapter 2, Verses 12 to 18) that was packed full of joyful action words "return to me with your whole heart ... rend your hearts, not your garments ... Blow the trumpet in Zion! proclaim a fast, call an assembly, Gather the people, notify the congregation, Assemble the elders, gather the children ... and say "Spare, O Lord, your people." What tremendous power in the Word of God! You might want to consider reading the entire Book of Joel -- it's only 73 verses long and powerful to read at the outset of our Lenten journey!
The second reading (2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2) calls each of us "ambasadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." This Lent can be a time for us to consider what kind of an ambassador for Christ we are and to accept the invitation to "be reconciled to God" if need be. And we all "need" to be reconciled to God, in small ways and large.
The Gospel (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18) has Jesus speaking to his disciples about the three classical Lenten practices: alms giving (giving to the poor or to charity), prayer, and fasting.
Note which one the Lord mentions first! I usually mention it last; I wonder what that says about me if the Lord mentions it first. That's for me to ponder this Lent once again. Alms giving is our faith put into action, our deeds matching our words, our concern for the poor made real!
Prayer is conversing with God -- speaking to Him and listening to Him. The listening is so important!
Fasting is a discipline of Lent, meaning it is meant to teach us something. It's more than just giving something up for Lent, it's meant to be a weekly practice, voluntary since the Second Vatican Council, but still a part of our Lent.
We're off to a great start! I can't wait for Easter!
God bless you!