Ash Wednesday invites us to a life of authenticity. It is a time of fasting, prayer and penance (almsgiving), which leads us through the forty days to Jesus’ resurrection. Symbolically the forty days remind us of Jesus spending forty days in the desert praying and fasting. By observing prayerfully the days of lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days and at the same time contemplating his suffering, death and resurrection. On this the Church sprinkles ashes on Christian faithful. While sprinkling the ashes we are reminded we are dust and unto dust we shall return. Ashes are a symbol of penance made sacramental by the blessing of the Church, and they help us develop a spirit of humility and sacrifice. Dusting oneself with ashes was an expression of sorrow for one’s sins and faults. They are also a reminder that God is gracious and merciful to those who call on Him with repentant hearts. They are signs that we are all sinners and we are all called to repentance.
During this season the Church recommends the practice of the three traditional pillars of Lenten observance namely, prayer, fasting and almsgiving. They are three great Christian duties-the three foundations of the law, and by them a Christian does homage and service to God with the three principal interests: by prayer with our souls, by fasting with our bodies, by alms giving with our companions and fellow human beings.
It is through PRAYER that we develop a closer, more intimate relationship with God. For a Christian, to pray means to allow oneself to be loved by the Father, to place oneself in an attitude of listening, of interior docility and to present to him all that we are, our expectations and hopes; it is to live prayer as a sacrifice of praise and intercession. Prayer also means to unite ourselves to Jesus, in the Church and his Body in history and to open ourselves to the breath of the Holy Spirit, who makes all things new; in brief, prayer in the Trinity is what we must increasingly discover.
FASTING is more than a means of developing self-control. It is often an aid to prayer, as the pangs of hunger re-mind us of our hunger for God. Fasting should be linked to our concern for those who are forced to fast by their poverty, those who suffer from the injustices of our economic and political structures, those who are in need for any reason. Fasting helps us to rediscover the need and desire of God, disposing ourselves to be empty of ourselves in order to be full of him.
ALMSGIVING is simply a response by us to God, a response that we have come to through prayer and fasting. It is an expression of our gratitude for all that God has given and a realization that in the Body of Christ, it is never just “me and God.” Works of charity and the promotion of justice are integral elements of the Christian way of life. It is a sign of our care for that in need and an expression of our gratitude for things God has given to us. Almsgiving, far from being an act of giving, is an attitude of the heart, a heart that is humble, repentant, merciful, compassionate, which seeks to reproduce in its relations with others the experience of mercy that each one of us lives in our relation with God. Almsgiving is simply a response by us to God, is a small sacrifice, a gesture of love, possibly humble, hidden, but genuine, which costs something and is done in praise of God and for someone who is suffering and in need. The giving of alms is a great duty of all Disciples of Christ, according to their ability.
During this season we are called to purge the self love and even that for appreciation and recognition. Acts of piety should be very personal and done without any desire to receive an earthly benefit or reward such as human praise. I wish you all a joyful season of Lent and plentiful blessings of the merciful Father.
Fr. Jacob Alvares, SAC.