“Return to me, he says, with all your heart. Lent is a journey that involves our whole life, our entire being. It is a time to reconsider the path we are taking, to find the route that leads us home and to rediscover our profound relationship with God, on whom everything depends. Lent is not just not about the little sacrifices we make, but about discerning where our hearts are directed. This is the core of Lent: asking where our hearts are directed. Let us ask: Where is my life’s navigation system taking me – towards God or towards myself? Do I live to please the Lord, or to be noticed, praised, put at the head of line…? Do I have a “wobbly” heart, which takes a step forwards and then one backwards? Do I love the Lord a bit and the world a bit, or is my heart steadfast in God? Am I content with my hypocrisies, or do I work to free my heart from the duplicity and falsehood that tie it down?”
– Pope Francis
Collect for Ash Wednesday
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Concede nobis, Domine, præsidia militiæ christianæ sanctis inchoare ieiuniis, ut, contra spiritales nequitias pugnaturi, continentiæ muniamur auxiliis. Per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus, per omnia sæcula sæculorum.
Today’s Gospel: Matthew 6:1-6,16-18
Jesus said to his disciples:
‘Be careful not to parade your good deeds before men to attract their notice; by doing this you will lose all reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give alms, do not have it trumpeted before you; this is what the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win men’s admiration. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you give alms, your left hand must not know what your right is doing; your almsgiving must be secret, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘And when you pray, do not imitate the hypocrites: they love to say their prayers standing up in the synagogues and at the street corners for people to see them. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you pray go to your private room and, when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in that secret place, and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.
‘When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that no one will know you are fasting except your Father who sees all that is done in secret; and your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.’
Ash Wednesday Reflection
Themes: Repentance, Fasting, Mercy, Salvation, Following Christ, Prayer
“For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin,” states the epistle for Ash Wednesday, “so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Co 5:21). The perfect Son, who is God, willingly became man and entered the fallen world so that sinful men and women might become children of God. This divine paradox echoes the remarkable words of Jesus: “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:22-25).
Lent is a season for seeing the world through the eyes of Christ, which means many of our assumptions will be challenged or even turned upside down. Prayer is essential for this new way of seeing what is really and truly living what we see in Christ.
In the Gospel for Ash Wednesday, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus condemns those who give alms in order to gain attention, who pointedly appear gloomy while fasting to appear pious, and who pray in public in a way meant to garner praise. “But when you pray,” Jesus said, “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” (Mt 6:6).
After all, the call to follow Jesus is not meant for those who think they are already saved and spiritually whole. It is for those who desire to be truly alive and awake. Giving up food can sharpen this holy desire. “Fasting wakes us up,” said Pope Francis in his 2018 Lenten message. “It makes us more attentive to God and our neighbour. It revives our desire to obey God who alone is capable of satisfying our hunger.”
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust for power, and idle talk; give me in their place the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love for thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.
(Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem)
Want the Saint of the Day sent straight to your inbox? Sign up for our Saint of the Day emails and we’ll help you get to know the saints by sending you an email on the feast or memorial of every major saint, and on the optional memorial of select other saints. Opt out at any time.