Despite the cold and rainy weather of this past Wednesday evening, our church slowly filled up with those who desired to begin Lent by listening to the Good News, receiving the cross-shaped ash on their foreheads, and celebrating the Eucharist.
The celebration began with a verse from Psalm 89:2 “Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo,” which aptly expresses what Lent is all about: “I will sing of your mercy forever, Lord.”
Both the first and second readings returned to this theme:
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, and relenting in punishment. (Joel 2: 12-13)
We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Cor 5:20)
The three major themes that are especially highlighted each year during the Season of Lent were clearly present in the Gospel reading from Matthew: solidarity, prayer and fasting.
When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. (Matthew 6:3)
When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. (6:6)
When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. (6:17-18).
During his homily, Fr. Sean put it this way: it is not a contest about who is best, who can persevere to the end, but rather it is about reconciliation with God. He also highlighted the importance of the sacrament of reconciliation, of reconciling both with others and with oneself. It is not about doing great things that you often cannot endure, he continued, quoting Mother Teresa of Calcutta: “Do small things with great love”. He pointed to Pater Joseph’s project to build a girls’ school in Bikoro, Congo as an example of a concrete way to give form to our solidarity.
Also, our familiar Lenten boxes were distributed to everyone in attendance, so that during Lent money can be put aside and the boxes collected at Easter as a gift from our community for this project.
Many then came forward, and the foreheads of both young an old were marked with ashes as they heard the ancient words addressed to so many before us: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
During this Season of Lent, we as a faith community are journeying on this path together, walking with our shortcomings, our possibilities, our daily small and perhaps even large crosses, repenting and preparing ourselves during forty days for the feast of all feasts: Easter, with its celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who assured us: “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11, 25-26)