As we enter into the Lenten season with ‘Ash Wednesday’, it is heartening to see that the readings of the day touch upon three main dimensions about Lent. They answer three main questions with regard to Lent: ‘what’ ‘when’ ‘how’?
The first reading tells us that lent is ‘a time to return to the Lord with all our heart’ (Joel 2:12). The second reading concludes that ‘now’ is the time to return to the Lord (2 Cor 6:2). In the Gospel reading, Jesus explains on ‘how’ to return to the Lord.
In particular, the Gospel reading touches upon the three main aspects or pillars of the Lenten observation – almsgiving, prayer and penance (fasting). In His sermon on the mount, Jesus clearly teaches us on how to practice all three of them. He seems to emphasize the fact that these three are only a ‘means’ and should never become an ‘end’ in themselves. In fact, the Gospel reading opens with Jesus’ warning (‘beware’) on this matter. The people of His time seem to have been more concerned about others noticing their acts of piety. Hence these acts of piety became ends by which one could earn the praises of others. This reduced them into empty practices which did not serve the purpose of bringing people closer to God.
As we begin, our Lenten journey it would be highly profitable to ask ourselves, why we are choosing few things ‘to do’ or ‘not to do’. Are they going to help us come closer to the Lord or are they mere empty practices to please people and earn their approval and praises?Only our earnest efforts can bring us closer to God.
As the ashes are used to trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads, let us resolve to trace any desire to please anybody other than God, and decide to rise above the ashes of our own sinful life making profitable use of the three pillars of lent. Then we are sure to receive our reward from the Father.