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Ash Wednesday

February 22, 2012

Blessed Ash Wednesday!

As we join Jesus in the desert for these forty days,
check out Lenten Customs for the Home
for ideas to help keep your heart focused on the meaning of this sacred pilgrimage.

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
(Opening Prayer for Ash Wednesday Mass)

Readings:
Joel 2: 12-18 (God is merciful when we repent)
Psalm 51:3-17 “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned”
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2 (We beg you: be reconciled to God!)
+Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 (Our prayer, fasting and almsgiving
are to be done in a spirit of conversion, not for show)

Why would a loving mother deprive her sons of legitimate pleasures?

That’s exactly what Mrs. Carson did–over her sons’ protests!–
insisting that there would be no more play until her sons learned their times tables.
She further limited them to 2-3 pre-selected television shows per week
and required them to read and report on two books, also per week. Torture!

Why?

Her sons were miserable, that’s why.
Their immersion in passing pleasures had cast Benjamin in particular
to the bottom of his class academically and socially.
He felt like a failure. He acted like a failure.
His mother intended to prove to him that he had what it took to succeed,
if only he would give up the things that were dragging him down
–harmless as they might be in themselves–
and pursue the things that would build him up.

It worked.

Benjamin caught a love for learning that gave him a taste of success
and whetted his appetite for more.
The movie “Gifted Hands” tells the story of how he rose to the top of his class
and went on to become a world-renown pediatric brain surgeon,
humbly rejoicing in the ability to give his patients and their families a new lease on life…
all because someone cared enough to bring out the best in him over his protests.

This is what Lent is all about.

God sees our misery.
He knows what causes it.
Our appetite for pleasures, even innocent ones,
is distracting us from Him, the source of all joy,
and is keeping us from growing into our identity as sons and daughters of the Most High God,
created in His image and called to share in His very life.
He created us to become as generous, as courageous, as self-sacrificing
–in a word, as glorious–as He.
He intends to demonstrate to us that we have what it takes to reach this lofty goal
if only we will give up the things that drag us down
–harmless as they might be in themselves–
and pursue the things that build our souls.

If we get this, it becomes obvious why “lip-service” is so abhorrent to God, why He cries out

Rend your hearts, not your garments
-Joel 2:13

…and pleads with us to avoid doing good works only for show.

Doing good works for show may make us look better on the outside,
but it won’t change our hearts.
It won’t make us–or God–happy.
God’s not interested in whitewashing us. He’s out to transform us!
Hypocrisy only offends God
because it locks us into the very misery from which He wants to rescue us!

God is offended by us only when we act against our own good.
– St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles

Nor does He want us to wallow in our misery indefinitely.

Behold, now is the acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation
-II Corinthians 6:2

It’s never too early…and while there’s life, it’s never too late.
Nor are the rewards limited to the hereafter, anymore than they were for Benjamin.

All the way to Heaven is Heaven.
-St. Catherine of Siena

God has a plan for you for these forty days.

Where in your spiritual life are you experiencing failure?
What desires or pleasures, innocent or not, are keeping you stuck there?
What disciplines would help you become more like Jesus?
What forms of prayer, fasting (sacrifice) and almsgiving (generosity)
would give you the edge over the temptations that most often degrade you,
building up the opposing virtues to ennoble you?

May this Lent be the beginning of the best of your life!

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