22 Feb – Ash Wednesday
Penitence is an essential part of the Christian life, for none of us can measure up to the tremendous vocation that is ours as Christians. We are in constant need of the mercy and forgiveness of God. Today we express this by taking part in an impressive corporate act of penitence and reconciliation, beseeching God for the grace to use with profit the ‘favourable time’ of preparation for the celebration of Christ’s Passover feast.
– The Sunday Missal
‘Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks –
come back to me with all your heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.’
Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn,
turn to the Lord your God again,
for he is all tenderness and compassion,
slow to anger, rich in graciousness,
and ready to relent.
Who knows if he will not turn again, will not relent,
will not leave a blessing as he passes,
oblation and libation
for the Lord your God?
Sound the trumpet in Zion!
Order a fast,
proclaim a solemn assembly,
call the people together,
summon the community,
assemble the elders,
gather the children,
even the infants at the breast.
Let the bridegroom leave his bedroom
and the bride her alcove.
Between vestibule and altar let the priests,
the ministers of the Lord, lament.
Let them say,
‘Spare your people, the Lord!
Do not make your heritage a thing of shame,
a byword for the nations.
Why should it be said among the nations,
“Where is their God?”’
Then the Lord, jealous on behalf of his land,
took pity on his people.
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
We are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us, and the appeal that we make in Christ’s name is: be reconciled to God. For our sake God made the sinless one into sin, so that in him we might become the goodness of God. As his fellow workers, we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them; I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’
Not to neglect the grace of God that you have received
I am a perfectionist by nature. It helps me achieve high standards in my work, but in other aspects, I often feel trapped by myself. When I look back on my actions and words, I have this tendency to dwell on those areas where I see myself falling short. I will keep playing the scene over in my mind, trying to figure out why I did that, feeling bad about it, and then thinking about what I should have said or done instead. I often end up in a state that I can describe as being analogous to jogging on the spot and never actually covering any distance.
“Come back to me with all your heart.” Lent is the season where we are each called to reflect on our sins, examine how we have strayed from Him and His love, repent, and make a renewed commitment to Him. I am struck by one of the lines in the antiphons listed for today – “leave the past in ashes.” Indeed, the ability to put one’s past sins behind and move forward is an essential step towards repentance. The ability to move on is also a reflection of self-acceptance, which I believe is a first step towards humility.
The Lord is “all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness, and ready to relent.” Sometimes I suspect that besides having difficulty accepting my true self with all its dark spots, I also lack the courage to relinquish control and abandon myself to God’s forgiving love. I am tempted to just do things my way, at my own pace, procrastinating as and when I like. But no, “now is the favourable time, this is the day of salvation” – it is all God’s time, and not my own.
What does the fasting and abstinence today mean for you? A mere obligation to be carried out as a Catholic? Or a concrete action that signifies your desire to leave your past in ashes and turn back to the Lord?
(Today’s OXYGEN by Edith Koh)
Prayer: We pray for a grace-filled Lent, that we may find it in our hearts to truly repent of our sins.
Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the patience of the Lord in waiting for us to turn back to Him.