The readings we hear on Ash Wednesday set the tone for Lent each year, besides receiving ashes that remind us of our mortality the scriptures call us to a deeper faith: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Saint Matthew invites us to reflect deeply on three things: giving alms, fasting and prayer. Long ago, when I was growing up the focus of Lent was on “giving up” something like candy, sweets, desserts, certain foods, and even the daily glass of wine went on sabbatical for adults during the forty days of Lent. But as soon as Lent was over, we went back to eating our favorite desserts, buying the tempting candy bar, and enjoying a favorite beverage. No change or conversion occurred, rather we returned from our sabbatical and resumed living our lives as before.
I believe Lent offers us a more significant challenge in considering this passage from the Sermon on the Mount, part of the Beatitudes to examine our lifestyles. First, we are to be generous to the poor, giving from our substance to those who are in need. Fortunately, there are many non-profits today who support people in need with food, job-training, or assistance in finding shelter. We find out over and over again there are many people almost in our own backyards who depend on others for their basic needs for short or long periods of time. We can choose to support one of these groups that work with the poor and offer our alms. There are many agencies to choose from within our own County.
Second, this Gospel passage for Ash Wednesday invites us to fast, not just observing the regulation of the church, to fast on Good Friday for those 18 to 60 years of age and for all to abstain from meat on Fridays, but to fast from angry words, fast from being impatient, fast from television for an hour a day or your favorite pastime like video games for some people. Then, we can feast on offering compliments, feast on a renewed level of patience, and feast on time with family members, possibly even have face to face conversations rather than texting one another. Lent is a time for transformation, allowing our inner being to find peace.
Third, we can pray regularly during Lent. We can be intentional by praying before we share a meal at home or in a restaurant. You can pray privately in your room or come to weekday Mass at 8:15 am or wherever it is possible for you to attend daily Mass. There is the possibility of personally praying the way of the cross any day during Lent at home or here in the church. There are daily hints or ideas listed on the Operation Rice Bowl calendar contained inside the cardboard box. Taking time to pray each day will have numerous benefits.
The Gospel concludes: “And our heavenly Father who sees what is hidden will repay you,” Lent is a great time for spiritual renewal, for taking time out of busy schedules and appreciate God’s many blessings that we regularly receive. We could make Lent a personal retreat, just ten minutes a day can make a world of difference. Let us journey together this Lent through our graced efforts to give alms, fast and pray. Happy Lent!!
Blessings, Fr. Larry