February 17, 2021: Ash Wednesday
Reading: Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
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.”
As a Catholic educator, my position required me to share with students my Lenten practices. How to share with them yet still feel that I was not letting the left hand know what the right hand was doing?
We started with the ashes. In essence, the ashes mark one as one contrite member of a community standing humbly together before God. Each member is seeking his or her own forgiveness. It is a public, outer sign of the inner change of heart.
Next was penance. This can be accomplished by abstaining or by doing. One refrains from something one enjoys as a small commitment to the new life one is asking of God. Next, one can choose to do something so as to seek to grow spiritually to prepare one for that new life. This can be reading Scripture, prayer, attending Lenten talks, or even choosing to find and do something good each day. Each person chooses then shares these intentions with God.
We acted within our class community and the larger human community. We each took a turn leading prayer. Together, we filled our room’s basket to assist others.
With the limitations due to the pandemic, it is a good year to turn our focus within our own heart. Explore a new Lenten tradition that calls to your heart. Or, take the time to discuss with another what Lent means for you. It is amazing what you will see within yourself as you seek to explain to others.