ASH WEDNESDAY (DAY OF FASTING AND ABSTINENCE)
Reading 1: Joel 2: 2-18 Prophet Joel outlines a positive program for a sincere and honest return to God for those who have forsaken him: “Return to me with your whole heart . . .
Reading 2: 2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2 “Now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation.” This is a perfect description of what Lent can and ought to be for each and all Christians – and the Church as well.
Gospel: Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 Jesus lists the traditional Lenten practices – prayer, fasting, almsgiving – and he insists that these can benefit us only if motivated by love of God rather than the desire for reward or any kind of human acclaim.
WE ARE LIKE DUST, YET LOVED BY GOD
Ash Wednesday is one of the most important holy days in the liturgical calendar. It opens the doors to Lent, a season of fasting and prayer. The name, ‘Ash Wednesday’ comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice included the application of ashes on the forehead. The ashes symbolizing the dust from which God made us. As the priest applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he says: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is a day for us to reflect on the reality of who we are before the majesty of God. We are dust in the universe; yet, we are dust loved by God. We are precious dust destined for eternal life and the ashes serve as a reminder of the direction of our existence: ‘a passage from dust to life’. If we truly allow ourselves to be shaped by the hands of God, we can become something truly wondrous.
Lent is a time of grace during which we can change our lives by letting God gaze upon us with love. The ashes on our foreheads should influence the thoughts passing through our minds. “What am I living for?” is the question we should ask ourselves. If we live for fleeting, worldly realities, then we spend our lives chasing after dust, moving backwards from life to ashes. But, if we live to love and make God’s kingdom a reality, then we allow the fire of love to be kindled in our hearts.
The words of the Lord through the prophet Joel in the first reading are words that have special significance for us, as we begin this season of Lent and are words that the Lord is speaking to us personally. St Paul shows us how to be cleansed of all the dust sullying our hearts: “Be reconciled to God!” The Apostle to the Gentiles uses the passive form of the verb, because holiness is not achieved by our efforts, but by grace! Only Jesus, who knows and loves our heart, can heal it. May the Lord help us to make use of this season of grace to transform our lives for the better.
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 51:3-6,12-14,17 Have mercy, O Lord, for we have sinned.
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