Joel 2:12-18; 2Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18
We have come here today because, like most Christians, we are torn between the knowledge of what we are called to be and remorse for what we are. We regret our little progress on the path of the spiritual life, we have come to do penance, and we have come because we want to start afresh.
Our eyes are on the future. We know that to live for God and others we have to die to self; to our self-ishness, to self-indulgence and self-preoccupation. Ringing in our ears are the words of Jesus: He who loses his life will find it; he who finds his life will lose it.
But we are not morbid or sad. We are full of joy at the prospect of the liberation awaiting us. After all, we know that what we do this Lent by way of prayer, penance and almsgiving will not be enough to set us free. No way. We are only making a gesture.
Ultimately freedom can come only from the Lord himself as gift. We are only indicating our desire, our longing, our need for this gift.
That is why, firstly, we are going to pray during this Lent; every day. We won't be spending long hours in prayer like they do in the Carthusian monasteries but we will be praying for a significant time and we will be praying well, from the heart, every day. In the last message from Medjugorje there was mention made of this: “Dear children ... You are forgetting what is the most important, you are forgetting to pray properly. Your lips pronounce countless words, but your spirit does not feel anything... Dear children, proper prayer comes from the depth of your heart, from your suffering, from your joy, from your seeking the forgiveness of sins...”
Secondly, we are going to do some fasting. Perhaps, like me, you can no longer manage 24 hours on bread and water so you are going to fast from something else. How about no smoking for two hours a day? No television one or two days a week? No coffee or tea, just water? No desserts? The possibilities are endless, thank God, and we are going to choose something that really will show God we mean it.
Thirdly, we are going to give some alms to people who really need our help; that's what alms means - help. If we haven't given some help to all the needy flood and cyclone and fire victims yet we will do that during Lent. It's our duty. We will go and visit that lonely person we don't want to visit. We will find someone or other to help because we want to show Jesus we need his help.
I am going to seal your good intentions about dying to yourself with some ashes. There is nothing quite so dead as ashes, is there? And yet, these ashes, in the sign of the Cross they will form on your forehead, hold the promise of life, the promise Jesus makes to those who die for him.