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Ash Wednesday

February 13, 2013

Reflection by Jane Regan, Ph.D.

Opening: Reflect on some of the practices that shaped Lent in the past for you.  Perhaps it was giving up something you enjoyed or taking on some spiritual practice for the duration of Lent.  In what ways were these important to you?  How did they help you enter into Lent?

Gospel: Read the Gospel for Ash Wednesday through slowly a couple of times, thinking about these questions.

  • What image from the Gospel story stands out for you?
  • What verse or verses are important to you?  Which ones invite you to further reflection?

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Reflection: This Gospel reading points to the three classic practices that the Church has traditionally seen as important dimensions of Lenten discipline: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. 

Taking time for personal prayer during Lent deepens our relationship with God and helps us to be more attuned to the world as seen through God’s eyes.  Setting aside time, or extra time, for prayer serves to heighten both our awareness of God’s presence in our lives and our response of gratitude.  Opportunities for communal prayer abound during Lent: many parishes have morning or evening Liturgy of the Hours, extra Masses, and opportunities to participate in Stations of the Cross.  All of these connect us more deeply with God and with one another.

Why do we fast?  We fast to keep us mindful of all that we have and have received from God.  It has become common to talk about fasting from things other than food, fasting from places and activities that consume our time, time that might be spent in prayer or in attending to the need of others.  Intentionally fasting even for a few hours from the internet or the demands of email might just give us time to be more reflective or to become more centered on God’s presence.  So fasting is always in service to something else – it opens up time for prayer and reflection.  And particularly fasting from food makes us mindful of those who are hungry because of poverty, which serves as an important foundation for almsgiving.

Like fasting is about more than food, almsgiving is about more than money.  For many of us, giving money from our excess can be much easier than giving time or attention to those who hunger for these things.  Through prayer and fasting we can become more aware of the needs of others and can be strengthened to respond to those needs in a way that is life-giving for all involved.

For me one of the gifts of Lent is that it gives me an opportunity to realign my priorities and rename what is of consequence in my life.  Through prayer, fasting and almsgiving I am encouraged to set my own wants and even needs aside.  Through these three practices I become aware of being part of something larger than myself – the church and its traditions, the spiritual life and relationship with God, and my place in the world as a human being. 

Lived faith:  How might the Gospel reading and these reflections guide your thinking about the place of this Lent in your life?  Are there practices that you would like to take up as part of the Lenten season?  What are they and why would they be important to you?  

Take time during these early days of Lent to commit yourself to one or two specific practices that can enhance your Lenten journey.

Comments from Alumni and Friends

Theresa Cannistraro 84 — Every Lent, God calls me to spend more time reading scripture and praying. Today I prayed the rosary. I don't always succeed, but through the process God is with me, even when I fail. I like a point in the reflection today about fasting-fasting from places or things. I will limit my time with my cell phone this lent.

guest — Pay it forward in Lent. Assist someone in need without them knowing who it is. Replace some of your least productive tasks with prayer. Identify people at random and “point a prayer” in their direction.

Maryrose '78 — Reflecting upon this gospel, the need to keep our prayer, fasting and alms giving to ourselves is what stands out. All too often, I seek credit for these activities, not just during lent, but at any time of the year. During Lent participating in these activities is sometimes my public excuse for not doing something else. How much more meaningful will Lent be, if I keep these practices to myself?

John — In reading the Gospel, my reflection focuses on humility/being humble. Doing the right thing for your relationship with God, not because you want others to see it or to be applauded by others for what you’re doing. In today’s world, I find so much is done for the “highlight reel.” It is not easy and is often tempting to beat one’s own chest, but I think it is honorable and impressive when a person does the right thing for the simple reasons to build a stronger bond with God and in turn to feel good about the person he/she sees in the mirror each day.

Rosie — During this Lenten season, I want to give God more time than I have in the past.  In our busy lives with our family and commitments, it is easy to lose focus of the meaning of Lent. I hope the Reflections website will guide me.

Robert Piazza 92 — Father Francis W. Sweeney, S.J., my former English professor at BC, taught me everything I know about spiritual discipline—not through lecturing but via his lifestyle. During this time of year, I like to remember him. He gave of himself and helped others in a quiet, understated way that was incredibly effective. I can only hope to aspire toward his example. One thing that he taught me was to read T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday.”  For me, the best line in the poem is near the end when Eliot writes “Teach us to care and not to care.” I believe that Eliot asking Mother Mary to teach him to love dispassionately, to have compassion for others but not to become enmeshed in problems that he alone cannot solve with his limited willpower.

Richard Mahon, M.Th., M.Div., JD '85 —Thank you Professor Regan. I value your Reflections and the gentle call to prayer, fasting and introspection. For me and many Catholics, Lent is a time of great anticipation that culminates in Passion Week. As Christians we are daily called to passionate pursuit of Christ. The traditions of Lent point to us to Him, the object of our pursuit. I look forward to each of your Reflections this Lenten season. Many thanks.

Jim Nolan '55 and '61 — Having lived through 70 Lenten seasons since reaching the age of reason, it is difficult to come up with new thoughts that are unique and inspiring, so I will turn to these weekly sessions hoping for a thought that will “light up my life” but will settle for knowing that I have spent time on things spiritual as part of my Lenten practices.

Gary Fernando 08 — In many ways I see Lent as a time of simplicity. It is this simplicity which  helps us reconnect to our faith.

Rita Renaud/Joyce 71 — Each year as I get closer to the “other side” of the spectrum of life, my lenten reflections become more and more a matter of “doing” and “being” all that I am capable of doing and being rather than “abstaining” from anything. Still active at 78 and working full time, I give thanks to the Lord for my health. One area I have become involved in over the past four years after work hours is that of Spiritual Direction. It is my goal to journey with my directees more intensely during Lent this year, allowing them the “space” to grow in their relationship with the Lord.

Mark Schumacher 02 — For me, fasting is not about being mindful of those in poverty or those who go hungry. Rather, it is a purposeful decision to starve my body in order to remind myself that behind the physical appearance, I am a spiritual being, and am called to strive for spiritual righteousness. I think that if we are only mindful of the poverty and hunger of others when we fast, we are not living with love in our hearts on a day to day basis. If we have to experience their hunger and poverty in order to sympathize with them, we are not living with love in our hearts every day.

Paul Horrigan 62 — Emphasizing the three pillars of Lent, as you have done: Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving, allows the point to be well made and also allows us to share the message with our friends, family, and those of any faith.

Joyce 96 — For the first time, and as a life-long Christian, I understand that mere forbearance during Lent from something that pleases me is not enough. A quiet, affirmative act to help someone—preferably everyday—is now my goal.

Brittany Wilkins ’12 — Every lent for the past few years I have given something up and tried to pray more. Praying at least once daily has become part of my daily routine. This year, I will not only continue to pray daily, but also make time through out my day to spend more time reading scripture. Today, I had a mini devotional during my lunch hour.

guest — During the election season I spent countless hours watching news shows, looking for hope for “our” party to win. When it didn’t, I realized that I needed to put my hope in Christ and not in man. What I’ve found is more time to read the bible and really communicate with the Lord. It causes me to look at life now through God’s eyes rather than man’s eyes.

Jim Cusick '73 — The readings and reflection remind me that God created all things out of love for man and that God's creations are meant to draw us closer to Him. Perhaps a bit of fasting from elements of God's creation might draw us closer to Him as we often take creation for granted. Fasting will call me to love God more.

J '87 — I am in a new---and very painful, disappointing---transition in my job, and it has made me acutely aware of those without work, and those who labor at underpaying and/or unsatisfying work. The suffering I am experiencing now is an unwelcome gift, reminding me of what I had taken for granted and what I have not been grateful for. A salutary, unbidden penance from which I hope I can learn and grow---in gratitude, sensitivity and love.

guest — A step of love... Reflecting on how to set my own wants and needs aside so that I can recognize again that I am part of something larger will make this season very meaningful indeed.  Although a solitary mission, I am grateful for the company along the way, and the hope that this opportunity brings.

Claire Maghuyop, from the Philippines — Last year I didnt understand what I needed to do to prepare for Lent, but now it is clear in my conscience through reading this gospel about the whole meaning of lent, especially alms giving, fasting, prayer and spiritual good works.

Carlos T., 13 — Thank you so much for this beautiful reflection. Lent to me is a time of prayer, reflection, and a time in which we think about those who are around us, especially those whom we most love and appreciate. It has taught me that, even though we aren't perfect beings, we can still show God that we love Him by making sacrifices such as giving up a favorite food or an activity. Lent is also a time to think about the choices we make in our daily lives and why we make them...But most importantly, it is about appreciating the things we have and giving thanks for being fortunate enough to have those things.

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