Well today marks the beginning of this Lenten journey.
Today has been just beautiful, thus far.
My dad and I went to mass at the church across the street due to our early schedules. First beautiful part of the day- the church was jam packed. People were standing in the back. At ! Seriously. Even if the people attending mass were attending out of routine and tradition- it really doesn’t matter! They were there. We were all in communion with our Jesus on this Ash Wednesday.
This morning’s gospel was taken from Matthew 6. Jesus gives us exact direction for this Lenten season. The Lord himself asks us to pray, fast, and give alms. Jesus requests that we be humble during this season of sacrifice. He wants us to make sacrifices and do them well. Jesus wants us to pray in secret, after all, prayer in essentially communicating with God. Prayer loses its sacredness if you let the whole world know about your communication with God. When we fast, He does not want us to fast and then complain about being hungry or make ourselves look like we are in need of food. When we give of ourselves to help others, whether that is in the form of time or money, it is also to be done in secret. We are not supposed to make a scene about giving of ourselves or tell everyone how much time and work we put into the church. Jesus goes so far as to use the example that when we give alms, one hand should not know what the other hand is doing. In our humanness it is hard to fast and not complain; it is hard to not boast about the great work we are doing in the church or about how many hours we spend in prayer but we will be rewarded for our humility. The Lord knows everything. He sees how much money you put in the collection basket, He knows how often you pray, and He definitely knows what it feels like to want food. We are promised that the Father sees us in secret and He will reward us. Sounds like a deal to me. Any reward from the Father will be FAR greater than the earthly satisfaction of someone commenting on our good deeds.
So after mass, I went to school. Walking around Golden West with this smear of black something or other across my forehead was…interesting. I got just about every response in the book. Each response crushed my pride a little bit more. I was so tempted to somehow get rid of the black smear on my forehead but boy, did Jesus show me. The first responses I got were the “looks”, the being snickered at, the not so quiet whispers of “It’s Ash Wednesday.” “Huh?” “Ash Wednesday.” “Oh, got it.” These responses though somewhat awkward and not what my pride wanted were beautiful. It enlivened the passage in 1 Corinthians. “We are fools on Christ’s account.” (1 Corinthians 4:10) My conceit died a little and the pride in my Lord rose a little. The next response I got was a little more accepting and hopeful. I had a guy pass me and then back up and say, “Oh! It’s already Ash Wednesday? I am such a bad Catholic. I got to get to church!” Thank you, Jesus. This only made me more proud to be a Catholic. In my last class of the day, I had a fellow student come up to me and say, “Um, excuse me, are you Catholic?” “Yeah” “Oh, well I thought those were ashes on your forehead. I just moved here and so I don’t know the churches around here. Can you please tell me what church you go to?” BEAUTIFUL. Each and every response from each person, from the snickers to desires to go to mass. And Jesus used me?! The girl who wanted to wipe the ashes away after the first smirk? God definitely uses the weak and the foolish.
This day has been beautiful and I praise the Lord for stepping all over my pride today.
I pray that this Ash Wednesday has been and will continue to be a day of prayer and a day of gaining a unity with Christ this Lent. Pray to Him. Ask Him for strength to carry out your Lenten sacrifices. He IS the ultimate sacrifice. He is fully capable of strengthening you this day and throughout Lent.
May Your passion and death humble and strengthen us this Lent.