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Ash Wednesday, 2005

February 9, 2005

Blessed Lent :)!

I beg again for the alms of your prayers for this reflection season. Thank you!

Today’s readings:
Joel 2: 12-18 (return to God whole-heartedly)
Psalm 51:3-17 “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned”
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 (be reconciled to God–Now!)
+Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 (don’t do your good works for show)

God is on the move.

(He is, after all, perfect Act)

God has big plans for us (Jeremiah 29:11), and He urges us to participate. He calls us to a time of spiritual retreat, to step back from the daily routine in order to get a better view of the big picture and readjust accordingly. He calls us to renew our vision of our ultimate destiny (Heaven), to refocus on our ultimate priority (Him), and to regroup.

We join Noah in the ark, as forty days and forty nights of rain wash away the corruption from our lives (Genesis 9:12). We join Moses for forty days on the mountain, receiving God’s handbook of holiness (Deuteronomy 9:9-18). We join the Israelite spies, exploring the wonders of the Promised Land for forty days in anticipation of making our home there (Numbers 13:26). We join rebellious Israel, wandering in the desert for forty years in reparation for their lack of faith (Numbers 14:33). We join Elijah, who walked, fasting, forty days and forty nights to meet the One who revealed His Presence in a still small voice (I Kings 19:8). We join God Himself, in the Person of Jesus, in the wilderness (Matthew 4). There we learn from His example how to win the only battle worth fighting. We learn to conquer the only thing that can do us lasting harm. We learn to vanquish sin.

Our readings are the opening instructions for our retreat, meant to help us get the most out of it. The main point seems to be that we need to “put out into the deep”, as our Holy Father keeps telling us–to get past superficiality. If we’re trying to impress ourselves, our neighbors or even God, we’re on the wrong track.

“Rend your hearts, not your garments” (Joel 2:13). When you need open-heart surgery (and we do!), a change of clothing isn’t going to solve the problem. We need to go deeper.

When you give alms, pray and/or fast, don’t do it to impress people (see Matthew 6:2, 5 & 16). That’s the superficial method. The deeper sense of sacrifice is breaking free from the tyranny of the immediate so we can live in the light of eternity. Our job isn’t so much to do things for God as it is to remove the obstructions so He can work in and through us. Likewise, repentance isn’t about beating ourselves up for our mistakes. Rather, it’s about correcting those mistakes, backing out of a dead end so we can get somewhere.

It’s significant that Jesus focuses on prayer (humbly acknowledging our dependence on God), fasting (developing the ability to say “no” to our desires) and almsgiving (refusing to let “things” have control over us) today, the three main forms of sacrifice recommended by Mother Church for our retreat. Pseudo-Chrysostom (whom Aquinas quotes as a Father of the Church in his commentary on the Gospels) notes that Jesus “opposes three chief virtues, alms, prayer, and fasting, to three evil things against which the Lord undertook the war of temptation. For He fought for us in the wilderness against gluttony [refusing to turn stones into bread]; against covetousness on the mount [refusing to bow to the devil in exchange for all the kingdoms of the world]; against false glory on the temple [refusing to throw Himself off the pinnacle as a way of showing off]. It is alms that scatter abroad against covetousness which heaps up; fasting against gluttony which is its contrary; prayer against false glory” (taken from St. Thomas Aquinas’ _Catena Aurea_). This three-fold set of temptations also lines up with the worldly trio of I John 2:16: the lust of the flesh (gluttony in its many forms, opposed by fasting), the lust of the eyes (covetousness, opposed by almsgiving), and the pride of life (false glory, opposed by prayer).

God is on the move. Come, let us follow.

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