Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Rend your hearts.

Ash Wednesday
Mass Readings:
Joel 2:12-18
2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Lent has arrived and it seems like we just put away the Christmas trees and sparkling lights. Actually, we just did! Today we shift gears hard. We see that the church has gone from ornate to simple, from bright to subdued colors focusing on dark purple. All of this is done on purpose so that we slow down, hopefully stop, and take time to look inward and examine our relationship with God and one another.

I am struck today by the simple words from our first reading, "rend your hearts, not your garments..." In the days of the Old Testament it was a common practice to place ashes on your head and rip a part of your clothing as a sign of grief and penance. It was meant to be an outward sign of the inner cry, a cry for reconciliation with God. The prophet Joel is calling for the people listening to him to be sure that they are truly seeking reconciliation with God and not merely putting on a show.

The prophet continues by begging the people to return to God and be one with Him. That is what we do today, we stop and call to mind that we are fully dependent upon God's mercy and His unwavering love for each and every person. Lent is often referred to as a journey in the desert. The desert is a dry and barren place. However, in that stark and dry landscape, the beauty that exists is piercing and easily seen. Today we begin a time where we are to simplify and throw away the attitudes and desires that separate us from God and one another.

Today we celebrate in a more somber way but we acknowledge the joy of God's forgiveness and we give thanks and praise to the Lord our God for the immense and unwavering love that is poured out upon us.

Each of us will receive ashes as a sign of our understanding that we have sinned and have fallen short of God's glory. These ashes are not a symbol to be flaunted so that we might feel superior to others. That is exactly what the prophet was crying against. What good does it do to put on a facade when the structure is crumbling? It benefits no one to look holy rather than be holy. Ash Wednesday is a time for us to make every effort to say to God, "I'm sorry. Please help me." Lent is a time of renewal as we clear out the clutter that is weighing us down spiritually and fill ourselves up with God's forgiveness and love. Confession, receiving the Eucharist, doing good deeds and possessing a willingness to admit where we are wrong is all very, very good for the soul. As we seek reconciliation with God, let us not overlook the necessity of seeking reconciliation with one another.

May you have a joy filled and peaceful Ash Wednesday. God bless you all.