Let's start at Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. What's it all about? What does rubbing dirt on your forehead have anything to do with Jesus? When you walked up in line and waited for someone to smear a cross of ash across your forehead, you might have heard them say "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." This comes from the Bible, from Genesis 3:19 and is meant to remind us of our mortality. We should reflect on how much value we place on worldly possessions and the fleeting things of this life. The idea is to remember that all our worldly possessions, along with our earthly bodies, will return to dust. Only our soul will remain in the end. So what are we doing to refine our hearts and souls in preparation for the resurrection of Christ at Easter? What are we doing to prepare ourselves for Heaven? We wear this outward sign of our mortality, in the form of an ash cross on our forehead, to witness to the world that we belong to Christ and we are striving to die to our worldly desires so that we may live in Christ and in His image.
Now it's starting to make a little more sense. We're giving up something (like chocolate or soda) to try to die to ourselves and our worldly desires so that we can draw closer to Christ. Now, what's all this talk of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that goes on during Lent? What does that mean we should be doing? Again, it means we should be trying to draw closer to Christ. We can do so by praying more, by fasting and denying ourselves of things of this world, and by giving to those in need, as Christ would do. But it's important how we go about doing that! In the Gospel on Ash Wednesday, Jesus tells us to pray behind closed doors, not like the hypocrites who pray where everyone can see them. He tells us not to look gloomy while fasting, but rather make ourselves appear as if we weren't fasting at all. He tells us that when we give alms and give to those in need, we shouldn't do so expecting praise and recognition. The simple idea is that we do all of this in privacy, so that it might be to help us grow closer to Christ, not to be recognized by the world. Remember, this life is fleeting! Everything of this world will pass away. When it does, will we be closer to Christ, or will we just have the acclaim of others? So, stop complaining about how hard it is to not eat fast food for 40 days...the reward will be greater in Heaven!
As we finish up this first Sunday of Lent, let's take a moment to reflect on our own sinfulness. Today, in the first reading, we heard about original sin from Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The psalm asked God for mercy on our sinfulness. The second reading reflected on how sin entered the world through one man and thus transgression fell upon us all. However, it goes on to say that just as the disobedience of one man made many into sinners, the obedience of one man (Jesus in the Crucifixion) will redeem us. It is only through Jesus that we escape sin. By running to Him, we can leave sin behind and rest in the grace of God. Jesus even provides an example to us in the Gospel. He rejects Satan and his temptations in the desert, just as He desires for us to reject sin and temptation. In Him, we are set free.
So, this Lent, run to Jesus. Allow Him to refine your heart and fix your brokenness. Allow Him to make you new again.