15 February – Ash Wednesday
‘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.
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
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.’
Behold, now is a very acceptable time; Behold now is the day of salvation
We are on the cusp of celebrating a new year, according to the Chinese calendar, and with just shy of a week left (as I write this), everyone is preoccupied with cleaning, shopping, cooking. It’s out with the old and in with the new!
Ironically, today also marks the beginning of Lent, a period of fasting and penitence. As with most things, there are two sides to the coin. While we prepare to herald in a new year and hope for new (good) luck, how prepared are we in our hearts to receive the tidings of new beginnings? Have we reflected upon our lives in the preceding months? Where we have fallen short? Do we know where that was and have we repented for it? Have we scrutinized our hearts and conduct enough to say, “Lord, I have learnt! And now I return”? And how are we returning to God? Are we returning with a subconscious nonchalance or are we returning with our hearts in our hands?
If I may speak candidly, Ash Wednesday this year will bear some significance for me. Today is the day that I will separate myself from an untenable situation that I let prolong for far too long. God has been quietly showing me all the signs but each time I negotiated to stay, to test it out, and see how far I could push myself. Then one night not too long ago, I lifted my prayer wholeheartedly up to God and said, “If I am too dense or stubborn, open my eyes Lord and show me the way!” In that moment, torn between the dilemma of staying or going, I surrendered my future up to God.
I have made this prayer several times to God before, but I understand now, reading today’s second reading, what God means when He says, “In an acceptable time, I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.” Though I had prayed the same prayer countless times, I had only done so half-heartedly, on my terms. In that moment when I surrendered my prayer to God, I was desperate and indecisive, tired of being blind to God’s guidance, and of my own stubbornness. I knew I had those faults, but I also recognized and accepted that I couldn’t fix them on my own. In that moment, I accepted that it was no longer my terms, but God’s will. In that moment, in my situation, God said, “This now, is an acceptable time, and I will help you.” And He did. He opened my eyes, and showed me the way.
The Lord implored us in the first reading, “Return to me with your whole heart”, with a reminder that God is full of kindness and mercy, slow to anger. The process leading up to today, while liberating, has also been painful, but then God reminds us that all pain of correction is only temporary. He has a better path laid out for us, and we need to keep the faith. This period of Lent is a time for inward reflection, a time for surrender, for forgiveness. Let this too be a time when God says to all of us, “This now, my child, is an acceptable time”.
(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)
Prayer: Lord, during this period of Lent, help us stay the course and keep the faith, in prayer, reflection, and repentance, and transform our hearts in the process to turn back to you.
Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for your kindness and mercy, for your patience when we seek our terms instead of surrendering to your will. Thank you for showing me the way, for opening my eyes when I was too blind to see that my terms were doing more harm than good. Blessed be God forever!