Ash Wednesday

February 27, 2017

“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 st reet 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.” MATTHEW 6: 1-6, 16-18

Here Sr. John of the Cross gives us the spiritual attitude for doing the works of Lent: prayer, fasting and giving alms.

“For the sake of directing their joy in moral goods to God, Christians should keep in mind that the value of their good works, fasts, alms, penances, and so on, is not based on quantity and quality so much as on the love of God practiced in them; and consequently that these works are of greater excellence in the measure both that the love of God by which they are performed is more pure and entire and that self-interest diminishes with respect to pleasure, comfort, praise, and earthly or heavenly joy. They should not set their heart on the pleasure, comfort, savor, and other elements of self-interest these good works and practices usually entail, but recollect their joy in God and desire to serve him
through these means. And through purgation and darkness as to this joy in moral goods they should desire in secret that only God be pleased and joyful over their works. They should have no other interest or satisfaction than the honor and glory of God. Thus all the strength of their will in regard to these moral goods will be recollected in God” (A 3.27.5).

Ash Wednesday is a sober beginning for the Season of Lent. The readings, the ashes, and the whole tenor of the Mass signal that some­ thing grave has begun. On it hangs our identity as Christians and whether or not we will express in our behavior what we believe in our hearts. In the readings, both Jesus and John of the Cross point to the importance of the heart in this season. Both caution us against becoming complacent with a mere performance of practices; both urge us to look within and see where in our lives we have taken message of Christ seriously; and where we may have not taken his message seriously. While the season has a somber start, its aim is to have a joyful end in our Lord’s Resurrection. So let us begin, and get to work.

Lord, you have called us to follow you during this Season of Lent through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Grant, we ask, that as we fol­low you through these practices, we may do them for love of you alone and so prepare ourselves to share in your self-emptying on the Cross, which you did for love of your Father alone. We ask this in your name, Amen.

We invite you to add your reflections and prayers in the comments section below.

Adapted from A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. John of the Cross by Fr. George Mangiaracina O.C.D.

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