Wednesday, February 10, 2016

You have dirt on your forehead.




“You have dirt on your forehead.”
I remember saying this to the Catholics who came to work after receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. How little I understood what that mark meant.
Ash Wednesday begins the Christian season of Lent. Lent is the forty days before Easter and signifies the forty days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before he began his public ministry. The word lent comes from an Old English word meaning lengthening, as in the days are lengthening and the rebirth of spring is coming. That is what Easter is – a rebirth. Death has been conquered and we are all reborn in Christ’s resurrection.
Lent is a time for fasting, alms giving, and penance. In ancient times Christians would put on sackcloth and ashes as a sign for all to see that they were being penitent. Out of this tradition many Christians today start the season of Lent by having a cross of ashes traced on their foreheads with the words;
“Remember man, you are dust and to dust you will return.” Or,
“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Lent is a time for fasting. We do not fast because God likes it when we suffer. God does not want us to suffer nor is he impressed when we do. We fast to show God our love for him and to strengthen our wills. Everything I have belongs to God. I am just a steward of these things for him. The only thing that is truly mine is my free will. When I deny myself something pleasurable I exercise that free will. The devil hates it when we exercise because exercise makes us stronger to resist temptation. Satan loves spiritual couch potatoes.
Lent is also a time for alms giving – giving to the poor. If we are fasting we have extra we can offer to those who do not have these pleasures. We are to be more charitable during this season, giving not only money and food to those in need but our time as well. We can give alms by serving those not as fortunate as ourselves.
Most importantly, Lent is a time of penance. We are to look at our lives and be consciously aware of where we fail in our love for our Lord. We are to pray more and seek reconciliation. It is this purpose that the second person of God took on flesh and became the man known as Jesus of Nazareth. In his perfect love for us he offered up his divine blood as the payment for death brought on by sin.
Lent is our time in the desert, to prepare for the greatest gift of love ever given. When an important guest is coming we clean the house for them. During Lent we clean our souls to prepare for the arrival of the most important guest who will ever visit. We prepare to receive the risen Lord on Easter Sunday.
My heart is full because the tomb is empty.
So today I have dirt on my forehead as an outward sign to all that I am a Christian and that the season to prepare for Jesus is at hand.
“Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
– Matthew 6, 16-18


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