(Image from www.franciscanalliance.org )
Joel 2:12-18, Psalm 50; 2 Corinthians. 5:10, 6:2: Matthew.6:1-8,16-18
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, marked by services of penitence.
The traditional purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, alms giving atonement and self-denial.
Literally, it means a change of mind and heart and attitudes. This point is vividly illustrated by the first reading when the prophet Joel tells us, ‘let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn’ (Joel 2:13).
What does change of mind and heart mean, and how can we do it? There is a sense in which we cannot effect it – all that we can do is to be attentive to God and let him do the transforming. A real change of mind and heart means an inner surrendering of my own life to God, so that whatever I do, I do in his Spirit: with him, for him and through him.
Alms-giving is a generic term which expresses the practical nature of our love for others.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus warns us against play-acting good deeds in order to be seen.
Fasting from wrong doing is more important than from food. There is inner fasting of the mind, which is letting go of past resentment, breaking down the barriers which separate us from God. Like fasting, alms-giving is both a means which helps us to pray, and also the result of prayer. If our prayer is genuine, then the spirit of God takes hold of us and we shall begin to feel more at one with him and with creation. We do not just fast and pray for people but give them a practical proof of our love which makes us ambassadors for Christ, as St Paul tells us in the second reading. Our hearts, like Christ’s will be moved with pity, and we shall begin to feel for our neighbours as we feel for ourselves. May God help us in conversion of heart this Lenten season Amen.