It is that time of year again—Ash Wednesday. Lent has always been seen as a time for repentance. Pope Francis defines repentance as thinking and acting differently. Joel tells us that God does not want tokens and sacrifices. God wants hearts that are open to the Christ dwelling within.
Lenten practice should allow Christ to come more alive in our hearts. Traditionally, even going back to Judaism, the practices are prayer, fasting, and alms. Hence Jesus’ admonitions in today’s Gospel. By prayer we do not mean repetitive lists of wants and needs directed toward God. Lenten practice should deepen our prayer life as resting in God. Listening to God, not chattering away about our various wants and needs. Almsgiving is central to Christian practice. This week, Pope Francis opened three shower facilities on Vatican property for the homeless—almsgiving to the ultimate. Fasting means refraining from food and many other things. Fasting from consumption and consumerism is not a bad idea.
Remember the Lenten days of old when the emphasis was on giving up something. Give up Reece peanut Butter Cups until high noon on Holy Saturday and then pig out and get a chocolate high. I know someone who gave up beer for Lent and drank bourbon every day instead. Giving up is not where it is at.
Giving in is the true purpose of Lent. Giving into God. Doing whatever is necessary to let the Christ in us become more and more real. Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest, follows Jung and talks about two parts of life. In our first part, it is about addition—achieving, family, home, job advancement and the like. The second part is about subtraction and this is where giving in comes into play.
I took my bicycle down to the shop on Hopkins last week and told the guy, “Tune it up. It does not go as nearly as fast as it used to.” He smiled and said, “Maybe it is the biker and not the bike.” As we age, life teaches us more and more about giving in. I am not talking about lying down and giving out. God comes to us disguised as our very life. Accepting what is happening to us and around us makes for a good Lenten practice. It deepens out trust in the ongoing creation God is working is us. We live now not us but Christ lives in us. As we let go of control, we grow in wisdom, age and grace as did Jesus. Giving in means that we accept the fact that we cannot run as fast or walk as fast or pedal as fast as we used to. I invite you to examine what is frustrating you about aging and then to let go and trust in God to grow the Christ within you.
When we let go of the false self we have fabricated, then our true self—Christ within us—came blossom forth. Lent is always about resurrection—coming to new life in Christ.
In a few minutes, you will be invited to come forth and receive the penitential ashes associated with Lent. We will say, “Remember, you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Ouch—a painful reminder. But there is good news, great tidings of joy—the dust we are returning to is the cosmic dust, the very dust that came forth from the Creator when the Word of creation were spoken. The cosmic dust came forth from God. God is in the cosmos and our very DNA to this day. We are divine dust and the Risen Christ is coming to new life in us. Let go and let God. Pray, fast and give alms so that you might rise to Easter life!