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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lenten Reflection--Ash Wednesday

This year I am going to attempt to post a daily reflection during Lent based on the readings of Mass that day.

Ash Wednesday:
Jl 2:12-18
Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17
2 Cor 5:20—6:2
Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

When reading and reflecting on the above readings, the primary theme that comes to mind is having proper relationship with God and the effect of such in our lives. This is a wonderful theme to start off the season of Lent because it is supposed to be a time of repentance, re-turning towards God, and cultivating a better relationship with Him through various actions. Let us examine a few of the ways in which we can build proper relationship with God during this season of Lent.

The Heart
In the first reading the LORD says "return to me with your whole heart". While rather obvious, this seems to be something that many Christians take for granted--we are supposed to give God our WHOLE Heart! Not just half, not only the parts we are proud of--the whole thing. How do we do such a thing? Through "Fasting, Weeping, and Mourning". Wait... so we're supposed to deny ourselves and in a sense suffer, in order to return to God? Yes, what a concept... why would God want us to suffer? Because He loves us(how antithetical)! We are human, and often we return to God only when we suffer. Even if we rejoice in God with our joys, suffering still unites us to the Sacrifice of Christ and brings us closer to Him in meditation of His Passion. This is one concepts behind the idea of "Penance". So now that we know how to give our hearts to God in during Lent, what is the effect? He will "relent and give blessing". Basically, God rewards pure actions and a contrite heart... it's called Heaven. The Psalm also points to the necessity of "creating a clean heart" in receiving the Mercy of God. Finally, the Gospel speaks of going to your "inner room", which in one interpretation, means entering into your heart to speak to God. After all, if you've given it to him completely, He is sure to be there!

Fasting, Prayer, and Alms Giving
While its good to know that the heart is arguably the most important personal concern during Lent developmentally, how manage your heart is even more important to understand. Typically, the Catholic Church holds that the three primary practices of Lent are Fasting, Prayer, and Alms-giving.

Fasting--Also known as "abstaining" this is the practice of giving something up. While it typically applies to meat (which there are rather simple rules about), the Church encourages the faithful to give up something in addition (Pop, Facebook, Chocolate, etc.). The idea is that, by stripping away those things that ordinarily distract us from God, as well as causing us a bit of discomfort, we are more able to focus on God. Therefore, fasting in and of itself is useless unless paired with its goal--prayer and a change of behavior. This principle is blatantly supported in the first reading.

Prayer--The value of prayer is obvious--it's conversation with God and a necessity in fostering a love of Him. If done correctly, fasting should bring us into deeper prayer than we are used to. Especially appropriate for lent is the meditation on the various trials of Jesus (the Temptation, Crucifixion, Death of Lazarus, etc.), as these things are especially relevant to the Spirit of Lent. Again, the Gospel reading gives us some ideas about how we should pray.

Alms-giving--The least known practice of Lent, alms-giving should be the effect of fasting and prayer, as they aim to turn our heart towards God, ultimately resulting in "changed behavior". Typically, the practice is giving money to the poor. In reality however, I think Alms could apply to any of the Spiritual or Corporal works of Mercy. The concept of Alms is stated briefly in the Gospel (which also tells us how to give alms), but I believe it is also alluded to in the 2 Cor. reading when Paul calls us "brothers and sisters in Christ" and implores us to "work together to be reconciled to God".

Knowing now the Spirit of lent, let us cultivates our hearts, minds, and spirits through the sacred practices of Lent. In doing such practices we return to God, the effects of which are obviously enumerated not only in scripture, but in the very desires of our soul.

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