[Ash Wednesday, Year C, Feb. 10, 2016 / Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51:3-6, 12-14, 17 / 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18]
TODAY, Ash Wednesday, we are receiving ashes on our forehead. This is more than just a symbol to show others that we are starting the Season of Lent. Instead it is a real reminder that we are going into this “favorite” period of the year when we CHOOSE to pray more, to give alms, and to fast. Yes, I said choose because Lent should not be lived as an imposition! If today we just receive the ashes on our foreheads, but the experience does not really reach our hearts, then Lent will just be imposed.
How different the Lenten experience when it is something desired, when we WANT this time of preparation, this time of training, this time of purification, this time of decontamination! Let us enter into this time of detoxification of body and soul, ready to receive the greatest gift of our whole lives — the mystery of Easter.
The first reading today reminds us to “Rend your hearts and not your clothing.” It is an invitation to go deeper, not just to stay on the external, in that which is superficial and visible to all (represented by the clothing) but to go deeper into our hearts. They say that it is not easy for modern man to go deeper. He can maybe easily reach into the depths of the ocean but struggles to go deeper in actually knowing him or herself. To remain in the external alone can be really deceiving – it looks good but can really be bad! There were some riots in a country once and they filmed the so-called “Good Samaritan video” – a guy was pretending to help a boy who had been attacked but as he helped him to his feet he was simultaneously stealing from the boy’s backpack.
What is Jesus’ invitation for us today in the Gospel? Avoid simply living out an external show of our faith or an external living of our Lenten journey. Go DEEPER. Don’t do anything just for show, or to receive earthly admiration and praise. As Jesus says, this may give us a good image but we have received our reward. He is offering something much more than just a good image in front of others. How often our faith is lived in this way.
“Go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” To go into your room and shut the door is to go into your heart, to see what your intentions are… Why are you here for this Ash Wednesday Mass? Why do you think it will be good for you to pray, to give alms, to fast this Lent? Don’t just do it because “you have to!” This process is known as personalization or also integration. Normally in models of learning you start with an external model or guide but at some point it needs to be internalized.
What am I doing this for? Go deeper and ask these questions… Only you can answer it, and only your Father in heaven is your witness… It is an invitation to be honest, to go beyond, to go to the internal meaning of Lent and actually your whole faith. What am I preparing for? Surely it is Easter which is about Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and the promise of the resurrection and eternal life. If you go deeper in this way, you will be rewarded because you will find the truth about your faith, your life, about Lent, even about the true meaning of life and love. He will give you his grace in the time of Lent, which is what Lent is all about – preparing for Easter, and receiving his help and his grace.
St. Paul writes to the Church of Corinth in our second reading today. “As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”
Now is the time — really this is a privileged time, the period from Ash Wednesday onward and the whole season of Lent. Make sure you seize the moment! Carpe Diem! Don’t wait for Holy Week to start trying to be holy but get into the groove now, while there is still time. Don’t waste a single moment of each and every day. Start living the Easter mystery, the most beautiful mystery and the most beautiful journey in history NOW.
The prophet Joel tells us: “Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy.” It is another way of saying don’t let anything get in the way — imagine even the newlyweds come running — see the urgency that NOW is the time to go DEEPER, to find out about the truth of your life. We have lost enough time in the externals and superficiality. Let us go deeper as Church. It’s good to receive the ashes, but to receive your reward you need to enter “into your inner room.” Jesus wants to give you so much more than ashes, so open the door of your heart just for him in this moment as He comes to us in the Eucharist.