Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018
Fr. Forlano, St. Stanislaus Parish
It is common on this day to ask, “What are you doing for Lent?” It is like asking someone what their New Year’s resolution is. Has anybody been asked that question? When we think about Lent and these Forty Days, we often ask ourselves, “What do I want to change in my life?” “What do I want to do differently?” “What should I give up or promise to God that I will do this Lent?” We can approach Lent as if we are starting a diet or an exercise program, but if Lent is about seeing what we can do or a test of our will power, these 40 days will not make much of a difference in our lives at all. Lent is not about what we do for God, but Lent is an opportunity through our devotions of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, to become more aware of what God has done for us.
The ashes we place on our foreheads remind us of what God has done for us – of his great mercy and love for us. “Acuérdate de que eres polvo y al polvo has de volver.” We were brought into existence from the dust of the earth. We are dust, but God loves us. Dust can do nothing on its own. The ashes are applied in the form of a cross. I am dust, and God died for me. I am nothing, and “for our sake he made him to be sin who did no know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God.” I am saved and given new life by his mercy.
The hypocrites make their prayers and devotions about themselves – “look what I can do” – but our devotions are meant to clear the way for God to act in our life – open us more to God. We shouldn’t think, “I need to work on this more” but rather “how can I make more space in my life for God to work?” Do I let God be God? Or do I think I have to improve myself?
A friend of mine recently watched a YouTube video about fasting and decided to try it. There are surprising healing effects that take place in the body through fasting, not just weight loss. The body, through fasting, in a sense resets itself, reconfigures its chemistry, and purges itself of toxins. He went for 14 days without food. He only drank water. After 4 days, he wasn’t hungry anymore. What he told me was that he was surprised by how much free time he had – time that would have been spent eating and preparing meals.
On a spiritual level, our Lenten fasting and devotions are meant to have a freeing effect, reconfiguring us to Christ and eliminating those things that are getting in our way of our relationship with Christ. When the Lord is given space to work and when we are freed from our attachments to things, we experience freedom and healing. Fasting from television, radio, and the internet is one way to free ourselves to hear God’s voice, but if we don’t put ourselves before God in that free time through prayer and meditation on the scriptures, the sacrifice of the entertainment won’t make a difference. When we begin to see the effects of God’s grace in our life, when we become more aware of what God is doing, we lose the taste for what does not satisfy, those things we thought before that we couldn’t live without.
“Rend your hearts, not your garments.” Lent is about opening our hearts to God, not the external things that we do. God has come near to us in our sinfulness and our nothingness. It is this nearness to us – his mercy for us in our sin – that I am nothing and yet I am loved – that gives us the joy of salvation. So when our devotions bring us to the awareness of God’s great love for us, we can have truly have a “Happy Lent.”