Ash Wednesday. February 14, 2024

 

Ash Wednesday. February 14, 2024

Joel 2: 12-18; 2 Corinthians 5: 20 – 6: 2; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

 

Theme: Works of Penance: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving

Today, we start the Lenten season. This is a forty-day penitential time in which we prepare ourselves to celebrate the Paschal mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ. Note that Penance is part of the Christian way of life. It has to do with Sin and Conversion. We should not ignore it. Let us journey together as a Church. This Ash Wednesday Mass is the kickoff. The ashes that we will receive on our foreheads today will have only as much meaning as we are giving them. Let us make this symbolism a meaningful beginning of a time of penance. The ashes remind us that since conversion is a necessity, then we should not wait until tomorrow; we need to work on it now because “we are dust, and to dust, we will return”. This can happen at the moment we least expect it. Prophet Joel, in today’s first reading, invites us to return to God: “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning” (Joel 2: 12). Saint Paul also in our second reading implores us on behalf of Christ, to be reconciled to God. What the first and second readings invite us to do is called “Penance”. The Gospel then explains the works of this penance: Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving.

The Church exhorts us to observe prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving during this Lenten Season to help us spend these forty days of preparation well. They are the external works of Penance. They have no value in themselves unless you relate them to the real penance which is your conversion to God. Here are some examples (but not limited) of what you can do:

1.                   Prayer connects us to God. During Lent, you are encouraged to increase your prayer time. For instance, during these forty days, you commit yourself to attend some or all of the following: Stations of the Cross, Daily Masses, Lenten Revival, Bible study, personal and family Bible reading and sharing, rosary, and other spiritual exercises. During these forty days of Lent, you may make a list of your prayer intentions if needed and pray intensely for them. So, make your prayer life more significant during this time.

2.                   Fasting connects you to God (in prayer), to yourself (in conversion), and to others (in charity). Here are different ways of fasting: First, you may choose to work on your sins and weaknesses (for example on your anger, gossip, overeating, and any other addictions) to seek conversion and healing. Second, your fasting can be limiting the way you use social media, video games, TV, and casinos. Third, regarding fasting from food, here are what the Church recommends: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory; abstinence from meat is observed on Ash Wednesday and Fridays; a person (except the sick and over 65-year-old people) is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. Remember this: Fasting from food must be associated with prayer and charity otherwise it is just a diet. True fasting must connect you to God, yourself, and others.

3.                   Almsgiving is the moment we reach out to those in need, especially with the time and money we save from fasting. Use this time to do charity work (for example, take the Holy Communion to the sick, do some work in the yard and inside of the Church, and volunteer for other charity organizations.), to be with your family, to visit the sick, prisoners, and the needy. The money you save from your fasting can be offered to the Church, or you can help the poor including those you do not know overseas. Almsgiving is the gift of what you have and who you are to others. Offer them with prayer. 

I pray that God bless all of us as we commence our forty-day penitential time. Amen.

Happy Lenten Season!

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

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