Ash Wednesday

February 17, 2021 | Story by: Christian Life Community in the Philippines | Lent, the season we launch today on Ash Wednesday, is a season when we ask ourselves how we can love God more deeply

Ash Wednesday

Bob Buenconsejo, SJ

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

Jesus, in today's Gospel, teaches us to move away from pretentiousness and the pathetic need for an audience. Jesus invites us to be real and not to make our lives a show or a theatrical performance. The Gospel clearly dissuades us from impressing everyone of how good or noble we are. People who are pretentious are easily found out through inconsistencies. The goodness of genuinely good people will always shine through, no matter how hidden.

We are reminded to be our natural, good, simple and kind self. The world is not a stage and Christianity is not play-acting. The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Joel reminds us to "rend our heart, not our garment". The prophet calls for interior conversion and not external display of piety or greatness.
On Ash Wednesday, the Church reminds us of our mortality through the Rite of the Imposition of Ashes, with the powerful words, "Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return."

Ashes not only remind us of our mortality. Ash on one's face is unsightly. One feels humbled walking around with the ashen cross on one's forehead. The ash on our skin reminds us of the fragility of our character, our inconstancies and inconsistencies and our utter dependence on God's mercy. The ash somehow reminds us that failure and humbling experiences accompany us and make us more understanding of others' faults and failings. At one point in our lives we fall flat on our face - we realize we are not as virtuous or strong as we have thought ourselves to be.

This holy season is a call to humility: to be humble is not self-abasement. Lent is a great season of humility, of pruning, of undramatic but genuine spiritual growth. The ashes whose sign we bear on our foreheads will be the sign that we can rise from the ashes of humiliating sinfulness and, as an Easter people find our way home in God's embrace.

Finally, Lent is a time for deeper solidarity with the poor. Indeed, the poor will truly teach us that it is in poverty that we are truly rich, it is in giving that we truly receive and it is in profound humility that we are truly exalted.

Lent, the season we launch today on Ash Wednesday, is a season when we ask ourselves how we can love God more deeply through quiet acts of kindness towards the weak and the vulnerable. May this holy season bring about deep conversion, genuine humility, unpretentious generosity towards the needy, and simplicity in our lives.

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