On Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, at the imposition of ashes, we hear the first words of Jesus in the gospel of Mark (1:15), “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” His powerful and simple words provide us direction and guidance as we journey through the sacred season of Lent.
Directed and guided by his words, Lent becomes a privileged time: (i) a time of repentance where we humbly recognize our weaknesses and sinfulness before God and one another, and (ii) a time of belief where we joyfully affirm our faith in God, the One source of our strength and our forgiveness.
In this Lenten journey, the invitation to return to the Lord is specifically addressed to the whole heart (Joel 2:12), meaning, the person in his totality – mind, heart and body.
1. God exists and is truly active in our lives. It is in our encounter with God through the Church that we are able to put into perspective every aspect of our lives. Lent is a time to return to what is essential and thus a time to turn our minds towards God.
2. Acknowledge the moral order: God has established a radical difference between good and evil. God creates what is good (Genesis 1:39), and God is grieved by wickedness and evil (Genesis 6:5-6).
3. Acknowledge the human attitude that God has ordained toward good and evil. Many times we allow ourselves to fall into mediocrity or bland indifference with respect to certain issues. Yet, the basic guideline is clear enough: hate evil and love good (Hosea 5:15).
4. Open your heart to God. God does not delight in rending our clothing when our heart remains closed to Him (Joel 2:13). Our God is not a distant but a personal God, wishing our relationship with Him to be a relationship between two hearts that mutually love. Encounter God in the Scriptures.
5. Open your heart to Jesus Christ. God’s love for us has a face, the face of Jesus Christ. Jesus is the Gospel, the good news of God (Mark 1:1). Encounter him through the gospels.
6. Draw close to the heart of our Mother Mary. No human being has loved Christ as his Mother did; her pierced heart was unconditionally adhered to that of her Son’s. Ask her to teach and intercede for us that we might love Jesus as she does.
7. Pray. As open and honest communication between husband and wife nurtures their marital relationship, so does open and honest communication between man and God nurture our relationship. This communication between man and God takes place precisely in prayer. Such reality requires that prayer be treated not as a monologue but a dialogue. Pay attention that half the time is devoted to speaking and the other half to listening. Note: In as much as the exhortation to repent (Greek metanoeite: Repent, all of you) and to believe (Greek pisteuete: Believe, all of you) addresses the individual within the community of faith, one is therefore reminded to pray with the Church and for the Church.
8. Fast. As a church practice, fasting involves Catholics between ages of 18 and 59, to eat one full meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. A related practice is abstinence, involving all Catholics, ages 14 and older, who refrain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent. This Lenten practice derives it meaning from the words of Jesus, “Man does not live by bread alone but every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). In other words, we must allow our physical hunger to reveal to us our spiritual hunger for the word of God.
9. Give alms. Since prayer and fasting open us to God, it is almsgiving that opens us to our neighbor, particularly the poor. This Lenten practice derives it meaning from the great commandment: “Love God and neighbor”. In becoming poor like Jesus, may we become rich in God.
Now is the acceptable time to return to God with our whole heart. Now, as a point in time, is unique and cannot be repeated. Now is the day to commit ourselves to the salvation wrought for us by our loving and forgiving God.
Contributed to Catholic-Link by Fr. Edison T.
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