"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness. …"
With these words from the readings for Mass for Ash Wednesday, March 9, we will embark on our annual Lenten journey to the bright new dawn of Easter morning. I pray it will be a time of great spiritual growth for you, and for us all — a time in which we will seriously examine our relationship with God and with each other through prayer and fasting, and give all that we can to those who could use our love and assistance through the Lenten practice of almsgiving.
The prophet Joel fittingly set us off on this 40-day journey with a challenge and an opportunity. Joel, referring to the ancient practice of tearing open one’s clothing as a gesture of sorrow, grief and repentance, asks us instead to make a much more powerful sign of our utter dependence and need for God’s love and guidance, to open our emotions and our inner being — our heart and soul. In short, we are called to surrender ourselves completely to God.
Of course, this is not easy. As human beings, we are endowed with egos, wills and temperaments of every kind. These are rich and complex characteristics that make us human and separate us from other living beings. But they also can be an obstacle to the fullness of relationship with God. For we do not easily surrender our hearts. And, if we are honest with ourselves, perhaps we will discover that we do not even do this for God, as much as we might believe and wish that we do.
Lent is an opportunity to examine just how much we are willing to trust and to give all to God, to rend our hearts and tear away at that perhaps too-confident sense of self-reliance. Indeed, it is a time in which each of us can ask ourselves if we truly echo the words of Jesus during his agony at Gethsemane: "Not my will, but yours be done."
On Ash Wednesday, the very act of putting on ashes symbolizes not only our willingness to repent, but our own vulnerability as mortal beings, and our need for God’s mercy and redemption.
How do strive to fully "rend our hearts and return to the Lord?"
How do we ourselves strive to embrace completely in our minds and hearts the promise Jesus spoke to his apostles at the Last Supper: "Trust in God; trust also in me."
The three practices of Lent I mentioned above — prayer, fasting and almsgiving — can be of enormous help to us as we seek to tear down the obstacles that separate us in any way from God. Each of these, and all of these together, work powerfully to soften our hardheadedness and hardheartedness by inviting God in. Fasting, for example, surely means to sacrifice and "give up" something dear to us, and that can be chocolate, coffee or meat, or our spiritual resistance to God’s will for us.
I am reminded of that old saying, "Let go and let God."
Peace to all.