Lent is here! Happy Ash Wednesday! I know that may seem like an odd thing to say. After all, Lent is a time of penance; a time to put on sackcloth and ashes. A time to give stuff up, to do without, to suffer. Yeah? So? Why shouldn’t that be an occasion for joy? After all, the real purpose of Lent is to help us draw ever closer to God. I think that calls for celebration!
In the Gospel reading today from Matthew 6, Jesus tells us about the three great pillars of Lent: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. We need to notice that Jesus spoke of these things to His disciples not as options, but as imperatives. They were all a given in the lives of the disciples. He didn’t say IF you give alms, or IF you fast or IF you pray. Rather, He said WHEN you give alms, WHEN you pray, WHEN you fast. No wiggle room that I can see there. Why did Jesus encourage these practices among His disciples? Because He knew that practicing these would help them in their life with Him.
Often times we view Lent as a time to give up something. Candy, ice cream, coffee, cigarettes…the list goes on. These are all certainly good things. But only if our reasons, our motivations are true. Whatever we do needs to be a sacrifice. It should be difficult. For instance, I could say that I am giving up sardines. But the fact that I haven’t eaten a sardine since I was 11 years old and swore I would never touch another sardine probably makes this not qualify as a sacrifice. This Lent, let me encourage you to really stretch yourself. Choose something that is going to be really difficult. And every time you get the urge to break down, whether it’s eating or drinking something, or skipping daily Mass or the Rosary, redouble your efforts and offer it up to God. I promise that He will reward you greatly for your faithfulness.
Father, help us as we begin our Lenten journey. Give us the grace and the strength that we need to carry out our Lenten practices each day, that we may rely on you, and grow closer to you. Amen.