Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

As a Protestant, I always viewed Ash Wednesday as an odd day. It wasn't until my post-college years that I really came to understand the meaning behind it, and who exactly celebrates it. In the past year, I have fervently studied Catholicism. There are many unique practices, and the Lenton season is certainly one of them.

For those of us non-Catholics, the Lenton Season (more commonly referred to as Lent) begins with Ash Wednesday. Lent is the forty days prior to Easter, in which the faithful make personal sacrifices in order to glorify Christ - in remembrance of Christ's forty-day desert fasting. Those who observe Ash Wednesday go to Mass and receive a blessing of ashes on their forehead. A small amount of ash is placed on the priest's finger, who in turn makes a tiny "sign of the cross" on the recipient's forehead. Sometimes the mark looks like a cross, but more-often it looks like a dash or a blob. The ash signifies forgiveness of sin, which without Christ, invokes death. The priest will say "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."

For the remainder of the day, the faithful walk around with ash on their forehead. For them, they are making a personl commitment as a way of glorifying Christ. My only qualms about the practice of Lent is with some of those who observe it. You see, most of the faithful receive their ashes and begin their Lenton journey toward Easter. They make personal sacrifices, giving up a food they obsess about or an activity that tempts sinfullness. As they should, they properly observe the private practices of Lent. However, there are those who make it social hour, asking their friends, buddies, online chatmates, and anyone else within earshot "What are you giving up for Lent?"

I laugh a little inside every time I hear that...every year. I sigh a little, too. I understand their fervor and passion for what they believe in. Being blessed is always a joyful feeling. And fellowship with other believers is like a taste of Heaven. However, Christ didn't mince words when he spoke of how we should practice out faith:

Matthew 6:1-8
1Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 5"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 6But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 7And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. 8Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

The whole 6th chapter of Matthew is one of my all-time favorites. It helps greatly with humility, and verse 9 begins the Our Father prayer. Christ saw the "religious" around him and how they lived out there faith, as if it was a spectator sport! The problem with acts of righteousness is that we tend to desire recognition and validation from other believers. We're all makes us feel good when someone acknowledges that we are going above and beyond for Christ. If we are not careful, however, it in itself becomes sinful. Our Father does not reward boastfullness. He rewards secret adoration. So the next time you do something AWESOME for our God and you feel that urge to shout it from the rooftops...stop, take a moment, and let His be the only ear you bend.

Faithful (noun) - church members in full communion and good standing.


Kelly said...

Thank you for the kind reminder and insightful post. Faith is not a 'Hey, God! Look at me and what I'm doing!' event; to the contrary, we are called to grow ever closer to Him.

I personally view Lent as a 40 day retreat with the Lord. It is not in what we give up that is most important; it is the new devotion and conversion of heart which we take with us beyond Lent which should be the focus. Our family refocuses our lives during the Lenten season. We pray together more, read the Bible together more, re-evaluate our past year and improve where we have fallen short in almsgiving, repentance, our prayer lives and the relationship we have with God.

In our home, we look forward to the Lenten season (a true time of renewal and shaking off of the old dust) more than we do Christmas. The culmination of this renewal is the joy which comes with the holiest of holy days, Easter when we celebrate the risen Christ!

During the Lenten season, the Mass is missing two things which are present every other season: the "Gloria" (prayer of joy singing, "Glory to God in the Highest!") and the "Alleluia" prior to the reading of the Gospel. At the Easter Vigil, we are each made anew with the renewal of our baptismal promises and sing the "Gloria" and "Alleluia" as if we were at the tomb of Christ so long ago and seeing that He had risen with our own eyes.

Then when celebrate 50 days of Easter! Not one, day, not forty; 10 more than 40!

Lent is more than giving up; it is a true giving, a giving to Christ and for Christ. All to the Glory of God.

In the New Testament, Jesus refers to the use of sackcloth and ashes as signs of repentance: "Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty deeds done in your midst had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes" (Mt 11:21, Lk 10:13).

We repent, and prayerfully we should be renewing our devotion to our Faith. Just as married couples need time alone once in a while without the kids to re-ignite that 'spark', so do we all with Christ.

I look forward to Holy Week with so much excitement and joy that it cannot be measured.

In the end of Acts of the Apostles, we see the same joy within Peter and the disciples who accompanied him. It expresses better what is within my heart than I can. I guess it is because the words were God-breathed. :)

40 After recalling the apostles, they had them flogged, ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and dismissed them.
So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.
And all day long, both at the temple and in their homes, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the Messiah, Jesus.

May we all be found worth to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.

Peace be with you!


Joe said...

As a former Protestant, I know where you're coming from and I completely 100% agree. I also agree with Kelly that it is not about what we give up, but it is the new devotions. Just this Lent, I have taken to going to daily mass (I missed twice for reasons beyond my control) and Eucharistic Adoration as often as I can. I gave up stuff too, but it is in what I took on that I find the most fulfillment. :)

God bless you and great post!