Ash Wednesday

Come out to the desert,
that place of silence and patience.
Come listen to the voice of God.

Lectio

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But 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.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”
Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18

Meditatio

“… [Do not] perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them
… your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”

“What are you going to do for Lent?” As children each year we had to answer this question. We gave up cookies, candy, TV, video games …; the list was made up of our most precious pleasures. We struggled through the forty days of Lent, flexing our spiritual muscles as we raced toward the Easter Day finish line. As adults we’ve settled into a more sophisticated Lenten spirituality, but often we end up giving up the same things we did as kids, perhaps hoping to lose a little weight or gain a little time.

Today’s Gospel reading prods us to go deeper. It centers around theatrics. We all are mini-celebrities of our own lives, imagining a trail of adoring fans following us. We can even make Lent into a minor Hollywood production. We conceive the idea for our Lenten penance. We write the script. We are producer, director, actor, and audience all wrapped in one. And we end up at the Easter Day finish line as self-absorbed as we were on Ash Wednesday.

Perhaps these words of Jesus spoken to us today are asking us to go backstage, take the last seat, sit down, and wait for God to reveal to us the script he has written for us this Lent. Perhaps as adults we should be asking at the beginning of Lent: What is God going to do for me in these next forty days? What is it that I desire God to do for me in this long Lenten retreat?

Instead of theatrics, Jesus is inviting us to simple honesty. To smallness. To just being there and sensing his grace, quiet enough, still enough to feel the gentle tugs of the Spirit to newness, to giving up obstacles to the growth of a treasured relationship, to finding a few moments daily to read the Word of God, to surrender fear.… What God is going to do in your life will surprise you. Expect it.

Oratio

Jesus, I am not accustomed to telling you to do whatever you want in my life. In fact, it’s kind of scary to see what you would do if I let you write my life’s script. I think I am doing a pretty good job at my life on my own. But it seems you want something more of me now. Instead of Lent being my focus, you are placing me front and center in your focus. I am expecting you to show me what you want to give me at this stage of my life. I trust you.

Contemplatio

I expect you, God, to do something with me this Lent.

Daughters of Saint Paul, Lenten Grace: Daily Gospel Reflections