21 February 2007

BETTER, NOT MORE


Ash Wednesday
Mt 6:1-6; 16-18

Every year, we go through the season of Lent. As far as we all remember, it always begins on a day like this: a Wednesday. We call this Wednesday “Ash Wednesday”.

Today, we impose ashes on our foreheads as a sign of our willingness to answer the call to repentance and conversion of life, and not only because we want to remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return. There is no use remembering that we are dust and that someday we will return to dust without turning away from sin and believing in the Gospel. Our bodies decay but we are more than just our bodies. We are embodied spirits. When breath is snatched away from us, our bodies return to dust but our spirits live on. However, this does not mean that we are imprisoned by our bodies. On the contrary, our bodies, though they are dust in origin, are the means for our spirits to touch eternity. Our spirits long for God and our bodies turn to Him.

But our bodies can also turn away from God. We sin. Thus, we need to train our bodies to do good and hate evil. Our Lenten discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are means to focus our selves only on what is truly essential for our spirits thereby making our bodies turn away from sin and cling to God. But sometimes, discipline can be masochistic. It is love that makes our Lenten discipline count.

We should not simply pray, fast, and give alms. We must pray with love, fast with love, and give with love. If we do so, then we will pray even for our enemies, we will fast but not keep for our selves what we save from our fasting, and we will give not only to the grateful nor share only our surplus. Love will make our prayer, our sacrifice, and works of mercy truly life-giving. And that is the whole point of Lent.

Lent is springtime in the Church. It is not about punishing our selves because we realize how bad and sinful we are. Lent is about realizing that, sinners though we are, God loves us more that we know, and so we strive to grow in and through that love until we become more and more like Him who Himself is love. Lent is springtime in the Church because it is about life that comes from loving and about loving that gives life.

When I was a kid, I used to observe my mother, who has a green thumb, cares for her plants. Aside from watering them daily while talking to them and checking if aphids have settled on their leaves, she also scatters some ashes around the plants. She said, those ashes are meant to fertilize the soil and make the plant grow better. May the ashes on our foreheads “fertilize” our hearts and make us pray, fast, and give alms better not more.

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