One of the purposes of Lent is to awaken within us an awareness of our desperate need to be reconciled to God, so that we will return to him with our whole heart. Ash Wednesday places before us the opportunity and the challenge to admit our sinfulness and our need of repentance. It also provides the time and the tools we need to change our ways: Forty Days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. God who is rich in mercy leads us through the desert of Lent into the joyful Easter celebration of the Resurrection.
Today’s readings awaken us. They stir our hearts to free us from the apathy and dullness into which we so easily fall, lulled by comforts and preferred routines. The first reading rouses us with its mention of blowing the trumpet, proclaiming, calling, gathering and assembling. Everyone is summoned: the elders and the children, the brides and the grooms. The priests are urged to stand in the breach and pray on behalf of everyone, “Spare, O LORD, your people…”
Why do all this? It is not simply our idea, our realization that we need to change. It is God himself who is alerting us, calling us: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.” These penitential practices are aimed at bearing good fruit. We do them with the knowledge that the Lord is gracious and merciful, “slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” We return to him with the hope that he “will again relent and leave behind him a blessing.” God is faithful and he is calling us to be faithful as well.
The second reading shows us how we can be faithful: “Be reconciled to God!” This reading, like the first, is an urgent appeal. Not only does God implore us to be reconciled, but he also asks us to serve as his ambassadors, “ambassadors for Christ,” so that we will urge others also to be reconciled to God. Therefore, let us “not receive the grace of God in vain”! Let us make good use of this Lenten invitation, and return to the Lord with our whole heart.
It is not enough simply to say that we want to be reconciled to God; we also must take concrete steps. These steps are outlined in the Gospel. We may compare the program of Lent to an exercise program. When we begin a new routine of physical fitness, it involves improving our mental habits, our diet, and our physical activity. The three spiritual exercises proposed for Lent are similar: improved mental/spiritual habits (prayer), better self-discipline and diet (fasting), and more acts of love for others (almsgiving). All three are needed to reach our goal. But unlike the temporal benefits we get from physical exercise, these three spiritual exercises have eternal consequences.
Today, let us make a clear and firm decision to begin our journey through Lent. We acknowledge that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. We follow up on our acknowledgement with prayer, fasting and almsgiving. If we set our hearts on the goal of Easter joy, we will let nothing stop or distract us, for “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Will I strive to awaken within myself an awareness of my desperate need to be reconciled to God? Am I ready to return to the Lord with my whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning? What concrete steps will I take to enable me to improve my prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 17, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.