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Blessed Virgin Mary

Weekly Reflection

Ash Wednesday 'B'

February 14, 2024

Joel 2:12-18
Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17
2 Cor 5:26 – 6:2
Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday, the first day of the liturgical season of Lent. In this season, we prepare ourselves to celebrate the high point of our Christian life, Easter. Each year, the readings for Ash Wednesday are the same. They call us to a change of heart and teach us about the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These disciplines are to be part of the Christian life during every season, but during the season of Lent, we renew our commitment to them.

The prophet Joel in the First Reading insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart, and not simply regret for our sins. All the themes and ideals that face us in Lent are present in this prophecy: repentance, sincere turning to the mercy of God, restraining human pride through fasting. The call is not to elite, but to all age-groups and all classes. To each is directed the cry to be as whole-hearted in our response to God as God is in His approach to us.

Saint Paul, in the Second Reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” The decision we make to renew our lives is not one that we can afford to keep on deferring indefinitely. As Paul points out to the Corinthians, the grace of repentance is a grace of the present moment. 'Now', he tells them 'is the favorable time'.

Gospel (Mt 6:1-6,16-18): The three religious practices Jesus discusses here are all such as open us to God and to His purposes in the world. Fasting expresses our dependence; almsgiving affirms our solidarity with others, especially those in need; prayer affirms our dignity as children approaching a loving Father.

The blessing of the ashes: The priest, dipping his thumb into ashes (from burnt palms of the previous Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each faithful with the sign of the cross. By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us a firm conviction that we are mortal beings; that our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and our life-span is very brief and unpredictable; a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance and a renewal of our life as the prodigal son did.

Let us purify and renew our lives during the period of Lent by repentance and by turning to God. Let us be reconciled with God daily, by asking for forgiveness from those whom we have offended and by giving unconditional forgiveness to others who have offended us.

We need to do some fasting and little acts of penance, following the example of Jesus before His public ministry. Fasting reduces evil tendencies, evil habits, and evil addictions. It also gives us additional moral and spiritual strength; it offers us more time to be with God in prayer and encourages us to share our blessings with the needy.

Ash Wednesday is one of two days (the other is Good Friday) of fast and abstinence. Only one full meatless meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal one full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted on these two days, but liquids are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law doesn’t oblige.