Ash Wednesday reflection

In addition to the regular Wednesday evening Mass at the College, Campus Ministry today also arranged for two celebrations of the Liturgy of the Word with distribution of ashes to accommodate all the students, faculty, and staff. I was asked to give the reflection at one of those celebrations. For whatever it’s worth, here it is.

Reflection notes–Ash Wednesday, 1 March 2006
Readings: Jl 2:12-18 2 Cor 5:20-6:2 Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart,…Rend your hearts, not your garments,and return to the LORD, your God.

Wholeheartedness. That’s really what Lent is all about, isn’t it? Each of us, in one way or another, is preparing to make a baptismal commitment at Easter. Some among us are preparing to make that commitment for the first time. Most of us are preparing to renew our commitment. All of us want to live out that commitment wholeheartedly.

Yet we know we don’t always do that. Too often, we live with divided hearts. Still, we long to be whole, to be single-hearted, to live in right relationship with God and with each other.

Today we’re invited to enter into a season in which we can focus on those relationships, and take some first steps toward correcting whatever prevents those relationships from being the best that they can be. Many of us have already settled on a Lenten practice. But if we haven’t yet, we might ask ourselves during the next few days: What gets in the way of my relationship with God and with other people? Maybe I channel-surf too late at night and don’t get enough sleep, so I’m generally crabby towards other people. Perhaps I spend too much time web-surfing or blogging and put off doing my work, and as a result I’m always feeling rushed–like I don’t have time to nurture friendships or devote to prayer. I might spend too much money on frivolous things, but then find that I don’t have enough cash to contribute to an important cause or lend to a friend in need.

Whatever it is that distracts us from what’s really important–from responding fully in love to God and neighbor–might be what we need to limit or “give up” this Lent. But it’s important to realize that this isn’t about punishing ourselves or making ourselves suffer. And, as Jesus says in today’s Gospel, we shouldn’t be adopting our Lenten practices so others can see how good we are. Instead, it’s about interior transformation, and becoming more whole. We want to say “no” to those things that leave our hearts divided, so we can more wholeheartedly respond with a loving “yes” to the God who loves us, and so we can more fully show genuine love toward those around us.

In a few moments, the words “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel” will be addressed to each of us. Let us pray for the grace to do precisely that during this holy season: to turn away from whatever divides us and to more wholeheartedly love God and each other.

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