Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) These words from St. Paul’s intone a sense of urgency to the people of Corinth. An even greater urgency can be found in the first reading from the prophet Joel, “Even now, say the Lord, return to me with your whole heart. (Joel 2:12) This urgency is recognized by many of us today as we turn out in large numbers to attend Ash Wednesday services. It is ironic then that this sign of the cross in ash on our foreheads marks us so outwardly when the readings strongly push for inward conversion.
The ashes are an outward sign that remind us of an inward reality. This is a sign that calls us to humility and reminds us to whom we belong. Just as the prophet Joel wants to remind the Israelites who had become unfaithful that they were to return to their God. Return to their God who is both merciful and kind. Joel challenged the people that this homecoming needed to be done at the core of their being, “Rend your hearts, not your garments.” (Joel 2:13a) In rending their hearts, the hope was that the Lord would not focus on the unfaithfulness of the people.
The psalmist continues this in the form of a prayer, “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” (Ps 51:3a) It is through God’s compassion that our sins are wiped away. A compassion that was so great, that God sent Jesus, his only Son to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. A compassion that when allowed God can radically transform our hearts, creating in us a clean heart with a steadfast spirit.
Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are the disciplines that Jesus preaches in today’s gospel. It is through these practices that we can allow God to transform our hearts. And that is the point of these disciplines, not that we can simply persevere in not eating chocolate for forty days and then go right back to eating it come Easter. This is not to say that the sacrifice could not change us, because it can. More importantly, is that these disciplines, these sacrifices are calling us to radical interior conversion. This conversion is one that, if we allow God in, can deeply rend our hearts so that we can be drawn into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Reflect deeply today on one very specific way to give your heart back to the Lord. Think about the very thing that takes the focus of your heart away from the Lord. It may be negativity or pride. Whatever it is, if it removes your hearts focus from Jesus, then it may be rooted in sin. Turn away from these obstacles, these sins and be faithful to the gospel. Lent is an acceptable time when we give our whole self, our whole heart, and our whole life back the Lord.
During these forty days let us be ambassadors for Christ; so that our enthusiasm may evangelize and draw others into a deeper relationship with the Lord. This is true for us as both individuals and as a community. It is as one body in Christ we are marked with ashes. These ashes call our whole community of faith to rend our hearts so that we may become one people working together for Christ.
“Merciful and gracious God, today we come to you acknowledging our own sinfulness. We ask that in your compassion you wipe out our offenses so as to give us clean hearts worthy to profess Your praise and glory, both now and forever. Amen!”
- Deacon Michael Montgomery