Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning...

Come back. Return to God. 

The first reading from the book of Joel uses a disaster as a sign of the end of times. This passage gives us a focus for the season of Lent. In times of disaster or need we have a God who implores us to turn back to God. 

Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.

This is an invitation and not a threat. It is also the invitation of Lent. It is Lent again. It is a penitential season and a season of invitation, but it can also be that time of the year that produces anxiety. What am I going to do or give up for Lent? We all have the special things that we do during this season. If you are like me, your Lenten practices are a mixture of things learned when you were young, other practices added over the years, and possibly a few things we have taken from friends or people whom we respect. We may pray more, fast, and volunteer. We may go to confession or quite frankly struggle to figure out what to do and disappoint ourselves when we have failed to do anything and find ourselves celebrating Easter! Another year, another season, and another occasion to accept God’s invitation. More decisions to make.

The invitation to pray, fast, and volunteer, is an invitation to respond to the Great Commandment.

This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 22:38-40)

Ash Wednesday and Lent offer us an opportunity to take some pressure off of pulling out our old tricks. It is an invitation to interrupt our focus. This season is an invitation for us to reduce so that others may increase. How do we accept this invitation?  

Jesus invites us to pray, fast, and give alms. 

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. (Matt. 6:2)

Praying. Fasting. Giving to the poor. When we pray, we get closer to God. When we fast, we detach ourselves from material goods. When we give from our own poverty, we reduce our selfishness. Jesus encourages us to do all three. The Church asks us to do all three as well. 

Ash Wednesday is an invitation to look outward. It is an invitation to shift our focus from ourselves to others. If we accept this invitation, then it prepares us to render our hearts unto the Lord. It prepares us to be women and men for others.


Introducing Boston College's C21 Center Lenten Devotional

You are invited to spend a little time each day engaging with scripture and enjoying videos, podcasts, articles and more. Look for the flashing icon to discover the daily theme and resources. Learn more.