Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday
Joel 2: 12-18; Psalm 51; 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:20; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

At the Fox Care Fitness Center where I go to work out, there is a white board and on it are put motivational quotes.  I’m not sure they work on me but…

The most recent quote of George Herbert (1593 – 1633), a British poet reads, “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’  

Timing may be everything when telling a joke but not necessarily in the spiritual life.  Every moment is an opportunity in which the Holy Spirit invites us to enter more deeply into relationship with Jesus and the Father.  Every moment embraces the possibility of being “just right”.   Paul is very empathic: “Now is a very acceptable time…now is the day of salvation!”  Yet how many of us in our procrastination believe that the stars and planets need to be in perfect alignment for us to do anything?  George counsels, “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right.’  

“Start where you stand,” he continues, “and work with whatever tools you may have at your command.”

I think many people feel they have to somehow be holy before they can be holy.  Christ came for sinners.  That’s you and me.  “Start where you stand,…start in our sinfulness and in our goodness, with our weaknesses and strengths, with our failures and fears… and work with whatever tools you may have at your command,…”

Right at our command the Church’s tradition today offers each of us three ancient, tried and true tools so that we can flourish spiritually.  That is why they have been around for a long time.  BUT like dead weight lifting, bear crawls, agility exercises and boxing they will stretch us, they will be difficult, they will hurt as we tear muscle, and it never gets easier.  I’ve been trying to learn how to pray for 62 years!  You must simply give yourself over…to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Don’t think the Olympic athletes don’t hurt every time they warm up.

Of these tools, I want you to understand almsgiving, as “mercy” toward people in need.  This tool may take the form of money, especially giving away enough money so that you and I have to do without something so another person has the basics of life.  It may also take the forms of giving a person our time, intently listening to someone, or volunteering.  This tool, scriptures teaches, forgives sin.

Fasting is not dieting or about losing weight.  It is about letting go of what keeps us from God and each other.  Trust me, dieting is much easier but it will not open pathways to eternity.  It will just make for a good looking corpse in the box.  And what might you fast from?  Fasting from food allows us to control our bodies and be in solidarity with the hungry of the world.  But as you leave today you will be given a card.  One side offers suggestions to “Fast from…” such as worry, idle gossip, anger, bitterness, self- concern.  The other side will suggest things to “Feast on…”

Prayer in our tradition is public and communal as well as private and individual.  Both are necessary on the spiritual journey.

  • Eucharist on Sunday, every Sunday. It is a discipline, just like going to the gym.  Consider the fidelity you and I give to other activities in our lives.  Do we put the same amount of energy, active participation and commitment into the Mass?
  • At the back of the Church are Little Black Books of daily Lenten meditations – 6 minutes a day to reflect on Scripture. Are our lives that busy?
  • If you’re an art lover (or want to become one), Lent is the perfect time to let the God of beauty speak to you through artists. Our church has some wonderful pieces of art and the colours of stained glass.  Sit before them in silence; take in colour and form and let them speak to you.
  • Enter into purposeful silence.

All of these tools: prayer, the fasting/feasting card, The Little Black Books, mercy toward other people, Sunday Eucharist, personal prayer, purposeful silence and reflection are all FREE!  It only costs our time and commitment “and,” George concludes, “better tools will be found as you go along.”  A 2,000-year-old Church with over a billion members has much to offer from her spiritual tradition.  “Do not wait…start where you stand,…”


Today coincidentally is Saint Valentine’s Day.  Valentine was an early Roman priest and martyr.  He is patron of engaged couples, people who have publicly committed themselves to each as they move toward the Sacrament of Marriage.   Might we experience Lent as a time to commit ourselves to Jesus who in the image of the Sacred Heart, a valentine, offers us his love and care.

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