Day 1: Ash Wednesday Reflection

(by Fr. Francis Gustilo)

GOD’S CALL

 

  1. 1.     Document: Holy Scriptures

1.1.  First Reading: Book of Joel 2:12-18

1.2.  Second Reading: St Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2

1.3.  Gospel Reading: Gospel of St Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

1.4.  Simple Comment: The scripture passages all point to God’s call to repentance. The prophet Joel speaks of true fasting: rend your hearts not your garments. It is a call to interior renewal, not just the external observance of rules of fasting and penances. Similarly, Saint Paul exhorts the Christian community of Corinth to reconcile with God. The time is ripe and we cannot delay this call of change from God: now is the acceptable time! In the Gospel of Matthew, the warning of external observances harps back to the first reading. The gospel outlines the Godly way of fasting, prayer and almsgiving: from the heart which only God can see and only He can truly scrutinize.

 

  1. 2.     Monument: The Judean Desert

2.1.  The Desert: a harsh environment formed over millions of years of cataclysmic changes but also the favorite place where Yahweh, the God of Israel, showed his might and magnanimity over his chosen people. After the apostolic times, the Judean desert flourished with hermitages of men and women who sought to live deprived of everything in order to delight in meeting God who is everything. At one point, in the 2nd century A.D. there were over 10,000 hermits in this desert.

2.2.  John the Baptist: our first day of Lent takes us back to that lonely voice in the wilderness, the voice of the Precursor of the Messiah in the desert of Judea, who indicated the path of salvation. His theme is one of repentance and the seeking of forgiveness from God.

2.3.  Moses: the Jews can never forget their 40-year stay in the desert, their return to the Promised Land which they left in the time of Joseph because they needed to transfer to Egypt to escape the famine of the time. In that momentous period of their history God freed them from the clutches of slavery, led them in the midst of the sea, fed them with manna in the desert, struck the rock to quench their thirst and gave them the covenant at Mt Sinai. Despite all this beneficence Israel turned her back on God. Yet every time God stayed faithful with his beloved People.

 

  1. Lenten Reflection

3.1.  The imposition of the ashes on our foreheads today is a biblical reminder of who we really are. We remember that we are dust, we are nothing, we are creature, we are even sinner. This is the stark truth of ourselves, a truth we need to remind ourselves over and over again, because we tend to boast and pride ourselves.

3.2.  The priest would have also said these words, while imposing the ashes: Repent and believe in the Gospel. They were the very words of Jesus after he came from his 40-day retreat in the Judean desert. His mission is to call us back to encounter his Father, because despite our pride and sinfulness Yahweh does not obliterate us; rather He seeks us, for He desires our salvation not our destruction.

3.3.  The challenge then of these forty days of Lent is to heed the call of God to repentance, believe in his Son’s saving love and accept to be renewed in heart by the power of the Spirit. This should show in greater gratitude to Him in prayer and greater generosity to our fellows in almsgiving. This is only possible if we meet him in the desert of our hearts by fasting from our selfishness and by relying in his forgiving love.

 

  1. As a nation we have been experiencing 40 years in the desert: 14 years of martial rule and 26 years of political bickering, corruption and mindlessness of the plight of the poor. What is God’s call to repentance in this harsh condition of life?