Biblical Reflection for Ash Wednesday - February 18, 2015
On Ash Wednesday the Church begins her great Lenten journey with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. For centuries, Lent has been a very intense spiritual journey and experience for the followers of Jesus Christ. Why are there 40 days in Lent? It took 40 days for sinfulness to drown in the flood before a new creation could inherit the earth. It took 40 years for the generation of slaves to die before the freeborn could enter the Promised Land. For 40 days Moses, Elijah and Jesus fasted and prayed to prepare themselves for a life's work. Lent invites us to turn from our own selves, from our sin, to come together in community. Self-denial is the way we express our repentance. Self-denial is threefold, advises Matthew's Gospel.
We pray: "Go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private."
We fast: "No one must see you are fasting but your Father."
We give alms: "Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you."
The central theme of Pope Francis’ Lenten message this year is indifference, a topic that the Holy Father has addressed on a number of occasions. Indifference is an important concept to explain the different phenomena of the modern world. One of the most significant moments when Pope Francis spoke of this indifference was during his short but highly significant visit to the island of Lampedeusa, off the coast of Sicily, in July 2013. There he spoke of “the globalization of indifference,” not merely as a geographical phenomenon, but also a cultural one. The Lenten season is always a time of conversion, change and renewal. It is a time for overcoming this globalization of indifference and entering into a new phase in which we recognize the difference between the self and the other, between one lifestyle and another, between oneself and God. This year’s Lenten Message presents three areas in which indifference must be overcome: the Church, the community and the individual.
Pope Francis speaks about the necessary conversion and the new heart that can beat within us. The key step in all social reconstruction and cultural renewal is change in the individual. The Gospel provides the keys for achieving this change in the person, which then affects the whole social fabric. Pope Francis warns however that conversion does not have its purpose in a better society, but in the knowledge of Christ and in becoming like Him.
We can see clearly in Pope Francis’ teaching that he calls us to go beyond a faith that serves only to care for oneself and one's own well being. Indifference stems from an attitude to life in which otherness does not make a difference and so each person withdraws into himself. Faith also can become instrumental in this search for self. Our path, Francis explained, is must take us further, “beyond ourselves”, so that we “live our faith by looking at Christ and in Him we find the Father and brothers and sisters who await us”.
Indifference must also be overcome in Christian communities, which are required to be “islands of mercy in a world dominated by the globalization of indifference.” The Christian community can already overcome this indifference, it can show the world that one can live differently and that it can become the city on a hill mentioned in the Gospel. Beginning with this Lent season, Christian community life, where one lives for the other, can be not merely a vague dream but instead a living reality; rather than a distant dream, a living sign of the presence of God’s mercy in Christ.
One of the important practives during Lent is fasting. It helps us not to be reduced to pure "consumers"; it helps us to acquire the precious "fruit of the Spirit," which is "self-control," it predisposes us to the encounter with God. We must empty ourselves in order to be filled by God. Fasting creates authentic solidarity with millions of hungry people throughout the world. But we must not forget that there are alternative forms of fasting and abstinence from food. We can practice fasting from smoking and drinking. This not only benefits the soul but also the body. There is fasting from violent and sexual pictures that television, movies, magazines and Internet bombard us with daily as they distort human dignity. There is the fasting from condemning and dismissing others -- a practice so prevalent in today's Church.
"For now is the acceptable time! Now is the day of salvation!" We need Lent to help us recognize that our identity and mission are rooted in Jesus' dying and rising. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the pillars of the Lenten journey for Christians. They help us to overcome a globalization of indifference by helping us to focus on what is real.
Lent is a time to fast from certain things, but also a time to feast on others. Fast from discontent, anger, bitterness, self-concern, discouragement, laziness, suspicion, guilt. Feast on gratitude, patience, forgiveness, compassion for others, hope, commitment, truth, and the mercy of God. Lent is just such a time of fasting and feasting!
(Image: Pope Francis in Lampedusa, CNS photo/L'Osservatore Romano via CPP)
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