ASH WEDNESDAY allows us to practice what Jesus taught as we observe this first day of Lent. We fast and receive God’s blessing with ashes on our foreheads to express our sorrow for offending Him. Today’s Gospel reading invites us to do this with sincerity, asking our Father for forgiveness openly and honestly, but from the inner rooms of our hearts.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to fast, pray and practice good deeds in a manner most pleasing to our Father, He said they shouldn’t act like the hypocrites who made sure others saw them, so as to win their praise. The hypocrites received the praise they pined for, but that was it for them, Jesus warned, “They have received their reward.”
When the praise of man is our only incentive to do good, then the praise of man is all we’ll get. On the other hand, if our acts are done from the heart with the intent that only our Father see them, a most excellent reward comes to us, “and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” What we receive from delighting our Father is lasting. Our recompense begins immediately with His grace and continues on for eternity—what could be better?
Not everyone can distinguish sincerity, but our Heavenly Father sees everything. Let us humbly speak with faith to the One who knows of our hunger, hears our every prayer, sees our every deed, forgives us of everything and rewards us greatly.
“With creation, God does not abandon his creatures to themselves. He not only gives them being and existence, but also, and at every moment, upholds and sustains them in being, enables them to act and brings them to their final end. Recognizing this utter dependence with respect to the Creator is a source of wisdom and freedom, of joy and confidence.” (Catechism, 301)
“God willed that man should be left in the hand of his own counsel (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he might of his own accord seek his creator and freely attain his full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him” (GS 17 § 1).
“Freedom is the power to act or not to act, and so to perform deliberate acts of one’s own. Freedom attains perfection in its acts when directed toward God, the sovereign Good” (CCC 1743, 1744).
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; and those who are crushed in spirit He saves” (Psalm 34:19).
There are a lot of hurting people in the world, but tonight I am not one of them. At this moment, alone here near the tabernacle, I glory in the Real Presence of the Lord and He hears me, giving me peace and joy of soul. Here in the dark, it is so quiet. I can hear the candles flickering. Jesus hangs here silently and beautifully on the cross, but only as a reminder. For at this moment He is in Heaven. At this moment, He is with me.
“The lowly will hear me and be glad” (Psalm 34:3).
A reflection on today’s Gospel:
St. Mark describes crowds of people traveling long distances to experience the miracle of Jesus. Crowds so large and desperate, Jesus expected to be crushed by them. Imagine!
How quickly word would spread if Jesus were here with us today, curing the sick and healing the sick of heart. With our technology, word would spread so quickly, Jesus would be crushed during his first appearance. Even if you weren’t sick, imagine touching Jesus! We couldn’t build an auditorium big enough to hold such crowds.
Since Jesus isn’t with us in the physical sense, the “crowds” of today are more like large gatherings. Even with the growing popularity of mega-churches and worship halls, there’s no threat of anyone being “crushed” or “pressed upon.” The only crushing and pressing that comes to mind are among frantic shoppers on Christmas Eve or mobs of rock fans waiting to get good seats to a Stones concert. How sorry we might see ourselves as we enter eternal life, standing before the beautiful Light of the World crying, “You are the Son of God” (Mark 3:11) and recalling the hours we spent seeking material pleasures while Jesus waited in the long line of our life to touch us.
Jesus fulfilled His mission on earth so that we, in the present, can touch Him through faith. He’s reserving a front row seat in eternity for each of us. Follow the road to Him and He’ll make the journey short…no crowds, no long lines – no waiting!