Today’s Gospel, like last Sunday’s, stresses the need for interior renewal and integrity of prayer and action. The traditional practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not criticized, but only parading them as signs of religious devotion. Lent is a time for interior renewal, but this should be incarnate in practice; this is the message of the Gospel and the wisdom of the church.
In the biblical and ecclesial tradition, repentance should be social as well as individual (in Jonah not only all the Ninevites but even their cattle are covered with sackcloth and ashes). This Lent, as we receive ashes, we might pray over the horrible symbolism that ashes have carried in our century. The Holocaust will always imprint ashes in our memories and not simply on our foreheads. Ashes were all that remained of burned-out African-American churches. Ashes are a vivid reminder of the evils of racism and hatred of the other, which seem endemic to our culture. During the jubilee year, Pope John Paul II called for and enacted rituals of repentance for our complicity, intended or unintended, in the culture of death. Lent also tells us that confession of sin and returning to a merciful God can change individuals and societies. Should we not give God a chance? This is what Lent is about.
• As Lent approaches, reflect prayerfully on those “wooden beams” in your eyes that distort vision.
• Pray about ways that families and communities can better incorporate the Lenten journey into daily life.
• Ask God to create a new heart in our lives and societies, that we may turn away from the ashes of destruction to the light of Christ.