MASS READINGS ON ASH WEDNESDAY
‘But now declares Yahweh come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning.’ Tear your hearts and not your clothes, and come back to Yahweh your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, rich in faithful love, and he relents about inflicting disaster. Who knows if he will not come back, relent and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a libation to be presented To Yahweh your God? Blow the ram’s-horn in Zion! Order a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, call the people together, summon the community assemble the elders, gather the children, even infants at the breast! Call the bridegroom from his bedroom and the bride from her bower! Let the priests, the ministers of Yahweh, stand weeping between portico and altar, saying, ‘Spare your people, Yahweh! Do not expose your heritage to the contempt, to the sarcasm of the nations! Why give the peoples cause to say, “Where is their God?” Then, becoming jealous over his country, Yahweh took pity on his people. - Joel 2:12-18
So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were urging you through us, and in the name of Christ we appeal to you to be reconciled to God. For our sake he made the sinless one a victim for sin, so that in him we might become the uprightness of God. As his fellow-workers, we urge you not to let your acceptance of his grace come to nothing. As he said, ‘At the time of my favour I have answered you; on the day of salvation I have helped you’; well, now is the real time of favour, now the day of salvation is here.
-2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be careful not to parade your uprightness in public to attract attention; otherwise 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 human admiration. In truth I tell you, 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. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you pray, go to your private room, shut yourself in, and so 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 are fasting, do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they go about looking unsightly to let people know they are fasting. In truth I tell you, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put scent 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.’ -Matthew 6:1 -6.1 6-18
From today we begin a season of grace as we first mark ourselves with ashes indicating our readiness to celebrate the season of Lent. The Lord offers us the discipline of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The Jews considered these three as the cardinal works of the religious people. These were seen as the key signs of a pious person, the three great Pillars on which a holy life was based. Why do we need to pray, fast and give alms? To draw attention to ourselves so that others may notice and think highly of us? Or to give glory to God? The Lord warns his disciples of seeking glory the preoccupation with looking good and seeking praise from others. True piety is something more than feeling good or looking holy. True piety is loving devotion to God. And this indeed is the heart of the matter! The season of Lent is not a boring period in the year but actually a time of exciting possibilities of strengthening our relationship with God through prayer and actions of penance as we reach out to others because we love God.