Today is Ash Wednesday and Catholics throughout the world are observing this occasion by attending Ash Wednesday services at their parish and fasting, or abstaining from meat. The first reading for mass today from the book of Joel, goes right along with what we are all doing today. God called all of his people together, by asking them to stop whatever they were in the middle of doing and come to the temple, including the priests. He asks the same of us today too. Yes, there are a million other things that we need to do, or want to do, instead of going to church, but God is calling us to set these things aside in order to attend Ash Wednesday services at our parish. It isn’t a Holy Day of Obligation, but God doesn’t try to make anyone love Him either. He simply invites us to a deeper relationship with Him. It’s up to us if we accept His invitation or not.
Life can get pretty routine at times. We seem to just go through the motions a lot in every day life. We all have our morning routines and other repetitive patterns of living that we do every day, like driving home from work. Have you ever set out on a small errand and accidentally took the same road that you always drive to work on, because it was so familiar you didn’t even think about it? If you live in a city, perhaps you got off on the wrong stop on the bus or the subway without even thinking about it?
We do a lot of things out of habit without really giving it much thought. However, we run the risk of our spiritual lives becoming a monotonous routine, or something that we just go through the motions with as well, if we aren’t paying attention. The Catholic church in her infinite wisdom, knows all about our human weaknesses, and so does God. It’s really pretty awesome that the church rouses us out of our sluggishness and calls us to grow closer to God and to become more aware of our tendencies to sin than we usually are. Relativism can easily set in if we let the awareness of our sins gradually slip away. Married couples can take one another for granted too, if they do not take a little time to work on their relationship from time to time as well.
Speaking of which, the psalm for today was written by King David and it sounds like he may have been written it after his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, and after he arranged for her husband to be killed in battle. This psalm portrays his deep sorrow, grief, repentance, and desire to be made clean and whole again, to set things right with God. Whether our sins are as big as his, or they are very small venial sins, we all have the same need of God’s forgiveness. King David was aware of this need and Lent encourages this awareness within us as well.
The second reading for mass explains that our righteousness does not lie with our ourselves though. That’s a good thought. Our righteousness lies in the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s kind of freeing if you think about it. A lot of fallen away Catholics feel like they aren’t good enough to go to church. Their hearts aren’t right. They’ve done things wrong and have failed to live up to be as good and holy as the other Catholics who do regularly go to mass. We are viewed as pious people and their sins seem glaringly obvious to everyone.
In the gospel today, Jesus tells us to not draw attention to ourselves, by doing good works for others to see. Something to think about this Lent might be to do the opposite as well. Allow others to see that we are sinners too. We are trying to learn to overcome these sinful inclinations and become a better person though.
Sometimes it can be a healing thing to learn that other couples have had problems in their marriage too, or to meet parents that have children with problems similar to your own, or to hear a fellow Catholic talk about their struggles with an addiction, or what helped someone to lose weight, for an example. We are on this journey together, for the long term, as a family. There is no such thing as a perfect family, but every Lent we do try to work on becoming a better person.