Tuesday 10 November 2015

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the season of Lent. When we think of the season of Lent, what are some of the things we think of? Some of us think about going to church to receive the imposition of ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday, some think about abstinence and fasting on certain days, some think about the Way of the Cross which is usually held on Fridays during Lent, some even think about making a confession at one of the churches having penitential service. All these thoughts are practices and they are good. But what sort of practices are these? These are outward forms or external practices of piety, and if we get caught up with only such external practices, we may end up losing the whole point of Lent, and that is to lead us to reconciliation with God and with each other, and eventually lead us to an inner conversion. But are these practices already mentioned enough? Perhaps we need to relook at three practices which we often hear about especially during Lent, but we may not have fully comprehended or understood what they mean. The three practices are prayer, fasting and giving alms.

When we speak of prayer, we are talking about establishing a closer relationship with God. Sometimes we may have become so used to rattling out prayers such as the rosary, the divine mercy, prayer to the Sacred Heart, or some other form of devotion, that our prayer is prayed out of habit or out of a tradition that was passed down to us from our elders. But by praying such prayers, are we really growing closer to God? Prayer should change us and lead us to trust more in God and to place our lives in His control. Are our prayers enabling us to do so? Or have our prayers become a form of babbling, saying so many things but without meaning?

When we speak of fasting, we are fasting not because we want to torture or punish our bodies, and fasting is not meant to be used as an excuse or a means to lose weight. We fast because we want to thirst for God, and place God first in our lives. Fasting helps us reconsider our values in life, and guides us to reject and deny the lures of temptations, especially to satisfy our own wants. Fasting sets us free from greed, and makes us more sensitive to the needs of others.

When we give alms, we do so not because we pity the poor or those who are less fortunate. We give alms because it reminds us of the need to be in solidarity with all, especially with the poor. Giving alms reminds us that all things come from God, nothing really belongs to us, and thus we should not cling on to these things selfishly. Giving alms remind us that people are far more important than things.

As we begin the season of Lent, let us take courage and let the Lord help us deepen our prayer life, and help us to be humble and docile in our fasting and also in our generosity to share with the poor. Let us do these things not because they are merely external practices, or to show off, but because we want to grow closer to God, walk in His ways, and let Him be our providence and guide.

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