Ash Wednesday:Uniting to the Passion of Christ

Today’s Readings:

Joel 2:12-18
Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
2 Cor 5:20 – 6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

USCCB Podcast of the Readings:

Uniting to the Passion of Christ

As we turn away from sin and draw closer to the life-giving Spirit of Christ, this Lenten season can be a time of inner transformation that empowers us to bring Christ’s kingdom more fully to earth by taking action against global injustices within our normal, everyday lives. This is the purpose of our new Lenten e-mail ministry called “Lenten Explorations: Personal purification that helps heal the world”.

Suffering, unfortunately, is something that we all experience. But when we unite ourselves to the passion and death of Jesus, by connecting our experiences to his, we will also experience victory, resurrection, and a worthwhile value for our hardships.

This Lent, let’s walk from grief to healing and from anger to peace, which is only possible by uniting ourselves to the passion of Christ. Day by day we will journey with Jesus as he teaches us to rise above our crosses by first embracing them in redemptive holiness and then by entering into the resurrection of Christ. Thus, we will discover tremendous blessings that we cannot yet imagine.

In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus gives us a walking staff for this journey. It has three parts. The top section, like a shepherd’s crook, is almsgiving – this is what bends our heavenward heart back to earth as we turn our sufferings into ministries that help others. The middle section is fasting – this is what gives strength to the staff. The bottom of it is prayer – this is what grounds us.

ALMSGIVING is a gift that we give to God in thanksgiving for his generosity toward us. Jesus describes two different “rewards”: (1) the repayment received by the Pharisees and (2) the recompense given to those whose generosity is based on love. Those who give lovingly are friends of God, and since friends share freely with each other, we are generous with our time, our patience, our talents, our money, or whatever else God has given to us that others need. Such love opens our hearts to receive more of God’s love.
PRAYER can be motivated by a right attitude or a wrong attitude. Do we pray with pious words and appropriate gestures in order to get people’s approval? Do we make the sign of the cross when we pray because we think it will improve our chances to get what we asked for? Do we recite formula prayers over and over to convince God to pay us heed? Or is our prayer time truly an intimate communication with the One whom we cherish most dearly?

FASTING is valuable only if it helps our spiritual life. If we fast so that others will think we’re good Catholics, it’s worthless. Fasting originated in Jewish history as a personal sacrifice on the Day of Atonement – the annual day for the forgiveness of sins – to show God humility and repentance. Today, fasting is recommended by the Church as a means of acquiring “mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart” (CATECHISM paragraph 2043). In other words, fasting helps us enter into greater conversion.
This three-part walking staff is necessary for our journey, because it enables us to deepen our ongoing conversion. Almsgiving converts our hearts when it involves sacrificing our material goods for the sake of loving others. Praying converts our hearts when it involves sacrificing our selfish use of time for the sake of loving God. Fasting converts our hearts when it involves sacrificing our selfish pleasures, represented by our enjoyment of food, for the strengthening of our spiritual nature and our holiness.


© 2011 by Terry A. Modica

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Joel 2:12-18
View in: NAB NIV KJV NJB Vulg LXX Hebrew
12Now therefore saith the Lord: Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting, and in weeping, and in mourning.
13And rend your hearts, and not your garments, and turn to the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, patient and rich in mercy, and ready to repent of the evil.
14Who knoweth but he will return, and forgive, and leave a blessing behind him, sacrifice and libation to the Lord your God?
15Blow the trumpet in Sion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly,
16Gather together the people, sanctify the church, assemble the ancients, gather together the little ones, and them that suck at the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth from his bed, and the bride out of her bride chamber.
17Between the porch and the altar the priests the Lord's ministers shall weep, and shall say: Spare, O Lord, spare thy people: and give not thy inheritance to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them. Why should they say among the nations: Where is their God?
18The Lord hath been zealous for his land, and hath spared his people.

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