Readings: Joel 2:12-18; 2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2; and Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
With these not so subtle words, we begin our observance of Lent. We are signed in the shape of a cross with ashes that are the residue of palms blessed on Palm Sunday. This identifies us as penitents who will observe the next forty days with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Originally this was a period of intense preparation for those who were to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. For us it is the opportunity to reflect on our relationship with God and our fellow human beings and to clear out any sinful habits that hinder us in our spiritual life. Being human is always being in need of conversion.
This period of forty days reminds us of the forty days that Noah spent in the ark; of the forty years that the Israelites wandered in the desert on their way to the Promised Land; of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his public ministry. So Lent should be about going from one place to another—a spiritual journey. What we have to discern is where God is calling us to go. What are we to leave behind? And, what if we don’t especially want to go there?
By its nature Lent entails sacrifice. Sometimes we think of that in terms of “giving something up.” What we need to remember is that sacrifice is meant to free us up to be about the works of compassion and mercy. We fast from selfishness to feast on charity and justice.
It is difficult to hear God in the noise and busyness of our lives. So, this year let us make room for God and where God is calling us to go. Let us stay focused on the cross and the demands of discipleship. Then we can come to Easter Sunday renewed and ready to once again claim our baptismal inheritance.
– Fr. Larry Snyder, now retired, is the former Vice President for Mission at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, MN and former board member for Catholic Rural Life.
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