In our Gospel reading from Matthew today, Jesus presents us with the three pillars of Lent: almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. With each pillar, he cautions his disciples to resist the temptation of engaging in these spiritual practices such that the focus is placed on us, such that we believe we ought to receive accolades for our efforts. The purpose of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting is to grow in true humility, which is placing ourselves in a posture of surrendering our will to God, to come to a place within our being that we can love as Jesus loves us, to will the good of the other as other for their own sake, not seeking anything in return.
We give to others not “to win the praise of others”, not even to receive thanks, but specifically because another is in need of our help. We pray, not “that others may see” us, to puff ourselves up, but to empty ourselves into the arms of our Father, recognizing how dependent on him we really are. We fast not “to look gloomy like the hypocrites”, so to draw attention to ourselves, but we fast to discipline ourselves such that we are not enslaved to our passions. We discipline ourselves, so as to walk on the path of freedom for excellence and engage in the fullness of the life God made us for.
Today as you receive your ashes sprinkled upon your heads, and even if there are those reading who do not (like myself), we are reminded that from dust we have come and to dust, we will return. We are created, finite beings, that are given a limited time to live our life on this earth. This is important to acknowledge so that we resist the temptation of taking our life, the gift of our time on this earth, for granted.
We are also reminded to repent and believe in the Gospel. Jesus, help us to recognize and to be contrite for our sinful thoughts, words, and actions and reveal to us the empty promises of our distractions and temptations. Through our participation in almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, help us to experience our restlessness, and seek not to appease it with finite, material things that will not last, but to come to recognize that our fulfillment will come only when we find our rest in the One who has made us for himself, our loving God and Father who awaits us with arms wide open.
Link for the Mass readings for Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2021