The purpose of all this is to prepare us for the celebration of Easter with a renewed ... emphasis on human sinfulness blocks its ability to emphasize the beauty of.
Ash Wednesday Fr. Rick Wilson, homilist Last Friday, I was having lunch at a favorite restaurant and had the chance to speak with one of the owners, about how bizarre that Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday were the same day this year. In the restaurant business, Valentine’s Day is one of its busiest days, after Mother’s Day. The owner said they had added several seafood options on their special Valentine’s Day menu, for people who observe the tradition of abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday. I told her that was very thoughtful and probably made good sense, business-wise. What I did not say is that Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are not only days of abstinence, but also traditionally fast days. In some traditions, this means one full meal or two smaller meals on both those days and no snacks in between. Some Episcopalians observe this practice, especially Anglo-Catholic Episcopalians; and others do not. Many, however, do abstain from something or take on something or do a combination of both during the 40 days of the Lenten season. At this liturgy, we will be invited to share in this somber season. The crucifixes in the church are covered; flowers removed, along with the Gloria and Alleluias. The liturgical color is purple, while unbleached linen is also permitted. Soon we will be invited to observe this season as a time of self-examination, fasting, prayer, repentance, self-denial, and the reading of and meditating on Scripture. The purpose of all this is to prepare us for the celebration of Easter with a renewed heart and mind, a time we recommit to our vocations as followers of Christ. Often, the Gospel reading for this season tells the story of Jesus in the desert after his baptism. It is the time of his preparation for his ministry. Today, the reading is an encouragement for us to practice spiritual disciplines, but not to make a show of how spiritual we are. The purpose of these disciplines is to help us grow spiritually. If the growth is genuine, it will be revealed in how we live our lives. Actions do speak more genuinely than words. During these forty days, I encourage you to allow time for self-reflection. The other disciplines are valuable too, but I believe self-reflection is very important. Allow yourself to be honest with yourself regarding how you see yourself, how you treat others, and where you are in your understanding of God and God’s place in your life. Ask yourself what strengthens you in doing what you know to be the right thing, and what you know you need to avoid, that keeps you from doing the right thing. Ask yourself what about your current way of being that you need to change, or what you need to add to your current way of being. We are all on a journey. Sometimes, religion’s emphasis on human sinfulness blocks its ability to emphasize the beauty of all God has brought into being. There is no doubt the human person has a proclivity to be for oneself, but we can grow into caring for others. We can develop into ways in which we see the giftedness of creation and become good stewards of what has been entrusted to us, including the giftedness of our own being. We can do so much good in the world. Allow time during this holy season to be reacquainted with yourself. The Spirit of God is with you in the process.
Invariably, someone will ask me what I am giving up for Lent. I found something offered by the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis, that gives me an understanding of what can be given up:
Fast from hurting words and say kind words. Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude. Fast from anger and be filled with patience. Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope. Fast from worries and have trust in God. Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity. Fast from pressures and be prayerful. Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy. Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others. Fast from grudges and be reconciled. Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
May this somber season strengthen you as you prepare for the joyful season of the resurrection! Amen!