Sunday, February 18, 2018

Coming From the Heart

FEBRUARY 14, 2018

Jesus, I trust in you!

Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day are an odd combination. One speaks of fasting and the other speaks of indulgence. That is why for most people, a choice must be made: will you celebrate Ash Wednesday by going into a fast or will you celebrate Valentine’s Day by going on a date?
However, when we listen to the Word of God, we realize that both of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day meet at a certain point. They meet in the heart. Today, we are summoned to penance. “Blow a trumpet in Zion! Proclaim a fast, call an assembly!” But this is not supposed to be simply an external show. Christ our Lord warned us today against “performing religious acts for people to see.” Our deeds of mercy and piety must be done in secret: “Keep you deeds of mercy secret…pray to your Father in private…let no one see that you are fasting…and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

What does “keeping deeds of mercy secret” mean? Where is that private room where we are to pray? How is that hidden fasting done? The answer simply is: do these from the heart! The heart is that secret place where we encounter the Father. The Lord does not look at external appearances but at the heart! The Lord is not impressed by externals. He wants things done with the sincerity of the heart. That is why the word of God tells us: Rend your hearts and not your garments! Our acts of piety and mercy are supposed to come from the heart because unless we do so, these will remain to be empty shows like a clanging gong. Without love, all these count for nothing.

The call for penance today starts what St. Paul calls the acceptable time…the day of salvation. The trumpets blown today tell us: We implore you, in Christ’s name: Be reconciled with God! We seek that reconciliation by detaching ourselves from the enemies of the soul, namely the self, the world, and the devil. These prevent us from forming authentic relationships of love with God. And so, if we want to truly love God, we must struggle against these enemies by using the instruments given to us: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. We use fasting to fight against our own self. By depriving ourselves of food, we struggle against our excessive love for the self. We use almsgiving to fight against the world. The world teaches us to accumulate. Sharing with the poor, we give a counter witness to the world. We use prayer in our struggle against the devil. We refuse to kneel before him because we worship God and only God. And all these struggles take place in the heart. We fast, we give alms, we pray with all our heart. We want to offer God a contrite and humble heart. We beg him: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me.

And so we enter the holy season of Lent. Let us take the Lenten discipline seriously. Be sincere in doing works of piety and mercy. Let our repentance come from our hearts. Let us not weep crocodile tears but authentic tears of compunction. “Between the porch and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep, and say ‘Spare, O Lord, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach…’” We are not here to entertain people. Our desire is to please the Lord. He wants our hearts. Therefore, return to him with all your heart! 

O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

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