Ash Wednesday begins our journey through lent, which mirrors the journey detailed in the book of Exodus. In that book the people of Israel were led out of slavery from Egypt, into the desert for 40 years, whereas we are led out of slavery from sin, into Lent for 40 days. They passed through Mt. Sinai, where they receive the law of God - the 10 Commandments, whereas we through Mt. Calvary (where Jesus was crucified), where we receive the law of the Cross. They were nourished in their journey by manna, quail, and water from a rock, whereas we by almsgiving, fasting, and prayer. They were led by a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day, whereas we are lead by the fire of the Holy Spirit speaking to us through the pillar of truth (which is the Church) convicting us of our sins unto repentance (see 1 Timothy 3:15 and Acts 2:1-42). Finally, they reached the promised land of Canaan, where they could worship God freely, we will reach the Risen Christ, and worship the Father through Him, with Him, and in Him.
This journey begins by recognizing that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The first step is to acknowledge that all have sinned, especially ourselves, and fallen short of the glory of God (see Romans 3:23). As St. Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is why St. Irenaeus says that the glory of God is man fully alive (no sin = no death = fully alive!). The Lord says in the Gospel According to St. John: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father except by me.” It seems then that man fully alive, is man, fully in Christ. No more are we to be dead, but alive! No more are we to be under the slavery of sin, but free in Christ! Life Himself longs to make you His glory! He calls out: “take up your cross, and follow me (see Matthew 16:24).”
But how will this be? The Spirit of God will lead us, if we are open and willing to listen to His still small voice (see 1 Kings 19), whispering in the secret depths of our soul. Let us ask Him to reveal to us the extent to which the Pharaoh of sin, who is the devil, has led us to develop the vice of pride. Let us ask Him to show us how our slave master, that is, the flesh, has developed in us vices of overindulgence. Let us ask Him to reveal to us how the culture of the world, so inebriated by the mystery of iniquity, has sown in us the seed of greed. With all our hearts, let us follow the Spirit, speaking through the Church, and take up the Cross this Lent, through almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.
Prayer is the beginning of this journey and the way we come to know our Deliverer, through whom we know ourselves. Let the prayers of the Church, and personal devotion, stir the soil of the soul, so that the seeds of grace take root deep within, assuring plentiful fruit flowing from our baptismal faith. Through this relationship with Christ, we will notice the weeds of greed sown by the world which need uprooting. Prayer is the means by which we are taken out of the culture of sinful worldliness toward the culture of the baptized. Prayer harvests faith that the unseen God will complete the work now that He has begun it in you (see Philippians 1:6), which in turn helps us to be in the world, but not of it (see John 17). From this foundation of faith, nourished by prayer, we begin to leave the iniquitous and sinful culture of the world, to live out our baptismal call.
The action of fasting is recognition that, in this desert journey; food, water, and other material goods must be rationed, for the sake of greater virtue: self-mastery which leads to holiness. The whips of our slave masters (our various vices) have left wounds that may be infected (inclinations, tendencies, and dispositions toward sins of the flesh). Fasting is the healing salve that treats these wounds, and aids in liberating us from vice. Fasting builds our hope in the triumph over our vices and looks forward to the day when we will be in the promised land, worshipping the Father, with our own resurrected bodies. In order to prevent a return to slavery under sin due to spiritual pride, it is vital that our fasting is rooted in the fact that we are washed in the waters of Baptism and anointed by the Spirit at Confirmation. Therefore, whatever we are fasting from should not disrupt our ability to give of ourselves to others, especially the poor.
Almsgiving, in which we give of ourselves to others, especially the poor, flows from living out the commandment to "love others as I have loved you (John 15:12)." How has the Lord loved us? “This is my body, which will be given up for you (see Luke 22:19).” In the Eucharist, He gives everything He is to us, out of pure love. This charity, flowing from the cross and resurrection, brings death to the first born son of the devil in our lives:pride. His precious blood upon our lips is like the blood of the Passover lamb on the door post of the ancient Israelites, keeping us safe from death (see Exodus 12). For who, after receiving the whole of Divinity in such intimacy as is given us in the Eucharist, could not be humbled, and obey the Lord's command to love? This assures the growth and survival of the greatest virtue: charity. For to receive love beyond all telling in the Eucharist, without responding with a charitable spirit toward our neighbor, is to commit spiritual suicide (see 1 Corinthians 11:17-32).
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a season of grace and conversion. I urge you, with the prophet Joel: “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.” I exhort you with St. Paul: “be reconciled to God.” Come, enjoy freedom from the slavery of sin, return to the Lord with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Not so that others will see your righteous deeds and reward you, but so that you might encounter the merciful Father in the secret of your heart (see Matthew 6::1-6, 16-18). Do not be a slave to sin any longer. As St. Paul says in his Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.”
May the Lord grant you peace.
Tyson was born and raised in California, USA. He received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in theology from Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. He is currently a postulant for the Franciscan TORs in Loretto, Pennsylvania and is there praying his way to becoming a Franciscan Friar with the TORs. Having spent nearly a month in Gibraltar during the summer of 2016, he has developed a special love for the people of the Rock.