Ash Wednesday ushers us to the season of Lent which concludes at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. Today, we received the ashes in the form of the cross (+) on our forehead which reminds us that we are dust and to dust we shall return. However, there is more to the ashes which is only a sign of something deeper, mysterious yet fathomable reality of our Catholic faith.
The marking of ashes in our forehead is a centuries-old tradition which the Church uphold until now because of its indispensable truths. We believe that as our fathers of faith has done so to earn the just mercy of God by putting on sackcloth and ashes on their head, we, too, will earn the mercy of God by submitting ourselves to the process of purification. The Ash Wednesday is marked by a day of prayer, fasting, abstinence, and alms-giving. Usually on this occasion, we abstain from eating meat and fast from one full meal with two lesser meals during the day, Fr.Joseph Classen puts it clearly that fasting is “simply not eating nearly much as you normally would during the course of the day and not consuming anything (except water) in-between those meals. You should leave the table still a bit hungry.”
Over and above, fasting and abstinence should be coupled with the awareness of the reality of what to fast and what to abstain in our life not just during Ash Wednesday, Fridays of lent and Good Friday.
I have listed out some of the sacred scripture that can, in any way, help us comprehend the deeper meaning of a centuries-old tradition of fasting and abstinence as we live out our duty and obligation as followers of Christ Jesus:
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans 13:11-14, which says “… it is now the hour for you to awake from sleep… the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light . . . let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day,…” Prod us to see life beyond the peripheries of our self-centered views. St. Paul urges us to ruminate every moment of life as the “hour to wake from sleep” and “throw off the works of darkness” within us and “put on the armor of light”. An examined life will always shed light which inevitably leads to gradual conversion and renewal of one’s fundamental life option. Paul in the same letter continues to identify the manners in which we have to fast and abstain from in order to be able to live honorably as in the “daylight”, “not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the desire of the flesh.”
A good scripture to take note as well is that of the letter of St. James 1:19-25, which underlines the necessity for the virtue of self-control and self-discipline as we go through life with its flaws, limitations, curves and edges. It says “know this, my dear brother: everyone should be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath…therefore, put away all filth and evil excess.” St. James reminds us that, in our dealing with others we must fast from our quick-tempered manners and habits and fast from self-introspection; abstain from our pride, self-righteousness and self-entitlement attitude so as to see things clearly as Jesus sees it, knows it and understands it.
Ephesians 4:29-31 brings us closer to the heart of fasting and abstinence. St. Paul boldly warned the faithful in Ephesians that to have a new life in Christ we must “guard against foul talk, all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.” Our act of fasting and abstinence must be imbued with the sincere desire for repentance, otherwise it will just be tainted with hypocrisy.
True fasting and abstinence will lead us to grow in our spiritual life. This sincere self-denial and self-sacrifice will create a space within us; thus, will inevitably lead one to desire for God. It is this very moment that true encounter between God and the *pray-er will happen, that God can enter into the life of the person. “It is through the (empty) heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eyes.” As we discover the essentials in our relationship with God, we come to a deeper appreciation to our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters, consequently, alms-giving becomes an act done out of love in, through and for God to neighbors.
Dear Lord, grant us the grace to be deeply sincere in our desire to amend our life as we enter into the season of lent. Amen
*pray-er – the late fr. Thomas green, sj would call the person who is praying as pray-er (anglicanpastor.com – priest reflection-google images)