God created us so that we may enjoy his presence for all eternity in Heaven. It is for this reason that Jesus came into this world, so that by the merits of his Passion and Death we may share in the glory of Heaven. And it is for this reason that the Church, through this Season of Lent, invites us to reflect deeply on the goal of our existence here on earth and on how to attain eternal life. Lent can be said to be a Holy Season during which we look forward to the joy of Heaven, the Eternal Easter, and prepare for it with a greater intensity and fervor.
The Liturgy of Ash Wednesday that solemnly begins the Season of Lent very keenly reminds us of our human mortality. With the imposition of the ashes on our head, we are instructed: “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This instruction is a sharp reminder that we will die and our bodies will decay. It carries an implied lesson as well: that we are made for an infinitely greater life on the other side of death, and so we need to prepare for it.
The readings of today show us how to prepare not only for the celebration of Easter at the end of this season but also to prepare for the Eternal Easter that is meant to follow our “return to dust.” Since it is through the merits of Christ’s Passion and Death that we reach the joy of Easter and the Easter of eternal life, our best and most fruitful preparation is to enter into the mystery of his Passion, meditating on it and imitating it in view of the joy of Heaven. Through this prism of the Lord’s Passion, we can profitably read, ponder, and interpret the Scripture passages given to us as we solemnly begin this Holy Season.
In today’s second reading, St. Paul, keeping our Lord’s Passion in mind, as well as our fitting response, makes a heartfelt appeal: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” God willed in his infinite mercy that Christ his Son would suffer and die for our sins so that we may be justified and go to Heaven. So Paul tells us that it is now the “acceptable time” to avail of the merits of the Lord’s Passion and to accept the reconciliation that God offers us through him.
To help us embrace God’s gift of reconciliation, the Church in her wisdom offers us a most apt first reading today. God, through his prophet Joel, describes to us a path of penance and reconciliation. He says through the prophet: “Return to me with your whole heart, / with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; / Rend your hearts, not your garments, / and return to the LORD, your God.” It is an invitation to “return,” to accept what he has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ. God wishes to reconcile us to himself, motivated purely by mercy: “For gracious and merciful is he, / slow to anger, rich in kindness, / and relenting in punishment.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches us three effective means of returning to the Lord and accepting his reconciliation during this Holy Season: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These personal and communal disciplines are not an end in themselves; they are means of combatting our sinful inclinations so that we will more readily turn to God and be reconciled. The traditional practices of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are our ways of participating in the life of Christ who served us, prayed for us, and suffered and died for us. Now we are privileged to be able to share more deeply in his Passion and Death so that we may share in his glorious Resurrection, the Easter of eternal life.
How am I preparing spiritually to enter the Holy Season of Lent? As the priest marks my forehead with ashes, what is my inner response to my human mortality? How does prayer, almsgiving and fasting deepen my spiritual life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.