“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” (Joel 2:12-13)
The summary of our readings today is this: No matter what the past has been, now is the time to return back to God and this return must take place in your heart, not merely in your external appearance.
In recent years, I have noticed people who take selfies with ashes on their faces and post it on Facebook or use it as their display pictures on their profiles across social media. I pray for you today: may your Lent this year go beyond external shows. Amen. Jesus tells us today: “Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for you will have no reward in heaven.” (Matthew 6:1)
Every year, the voice of the Prophet Joel ushers us into the season of Lent with a beautiful message of hope that begins with two powerful words: “EVEN NOW”. St. Paul in our second reading adds: “Now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
Today is all we have. Yesterday is gone forever and tomorrow is not certain. Whatever you can do to make you return to God like the people of Nineveh did, please do. The ashes that we are receiving today is not meant for a show, it is not a good-luck charm. These ashes only serve as a reminder that you must die one day and your body will become ashes; dust from which you came. (Cf. Genesis 2:7). Today is all you have to be good.
Jesus says we must be careful not to show off our spiritual exercises to attract the praises of others. Jesus did not say we should refrain entirely from them. From time immemorial, fasting, prayer and almsgiving have always been observed as penitential rites; acts of self-discipline and steps to deeper spiritual growth.
During this Lent, the church is asking us to take on these practices once again in accord with Jesus’ instructions. Fasting, prayer and almsgiving help us fight the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. When we fast from food or from anything of value to our flesh, we must ensure that whatever we deprive ourselves of is beneficial to someone else (as alms) and while we feel the pangs of hunger or desire for that thing, we must channel our longing to God by praying.
Let us pray: Lord Jesus, grant me the grace of genuine repentance. Amen.
Bible Study: Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 50, 2nd Corinthians 5:20-6:2 and Matthew 6:1-6; 16-18).