Ash Wednesday

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.

Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

One of the ministry things I have been involved in during my time in seminary is as a fire chaplain. I work for one of the local fire departments, and sometimes go to the scenes of ambulance calls or fires. Last year on Ash Wednesday, we were called to the scene of a fire. I went with one of my friends who also is a fire chaplain for the department. The fire was at a four-unit condominium, and it was looking pretty bad. When we arrived, we checked in with the Chief, and he told us that the families were in an apartment across the street. We headed that way and spoke to some of the family members who were home at the time and started to be sure that their needs were being taken care of. After we had talked with them for a time, I started a conversation with the woman in whose apartment we were all gathered. I asked her if she knew any of these people before the fire. She told me that she didn?t and I thanked her for opening her home to the victims of the fire. She said she wouldn?t think not to do something like that. And I believed her: she had on a sweatshirt that said, ?What would Jesus do?? Now we have all heard the WWJD thing a million times and I wonder if it even means anything to anyone anymore. Theologians also tell us that in some ways that?s the wrong question to even ask. But as I was there with this nice woman who opened her house up to us all, and with fire fighters and police officers coming in and out with snowy and wet boots, I wasn?t so sure that WWJD was completely pass鮠 It struck me that in asking what Jesus would do, maybe we can grow in our relationship with Jesus so much so that we do the work he wants to do right here and right now, without even stopping to think about it. After all, at this time, we are all his hands and feet, and he works through us to give people a place to gather while their house is burning, or he works through us to show his presence in our world in thousands of ways every single minute of every single day. Today?s first reading and Gospel talk about fasting and almsgiving, which are appropriate topics for this first day of Lent. Above all, these readings tell us that we can?t get all caught up in the show of it all. Our fasting, our almsgiving, our service ? all of these can?t be done just so people can see it and think well of us. No, we must do these things as naturally as someone who has made it their prayer to live every day doing what Jesus would do, and living as people who have come to know their Lord in a way that they can do that without a moment?s hesitation. Indeed, these kinds of ?hidden? works of fasting, almsgiving and prayer should be natural for us who know the Lord and live as people who have been redeemed by him in this very acceptable day of salvation. So maybe our question to one another ought not to be ?what are you giving up for Lent this year?? Maybe it would be better to ask ?how are you using Lent to come to know the Lord better?? And maybe in doing that we will fast, because fasting helps us to realize that there is nothing that we hunger for that God can?t provide. Maybe in doing that we will give something up, because in denying ourselves we can be open to the many ways God wants to bless us. Maybe our way of coming to know the Lord better will be through prayer, or reading a book of Scripture during Lent, because prayer and Scripture are ways that Jesus reveals himself to us all the time. Or maybe our way of coming to know the Lord better will be through some kind of service to others ? maybe even something we?ve never done but have been asked to try ? because in service we can come to see that God does things in us we could never do on our own. But whatever it is we are called to do in these forty days of Lent, let us not waste this time in any way and let us not make a big show of it. The time to grow in our spiritual life ? to come to know our Lord Jesus Christ better ? is now, today, right this very minute. Let us not put it off because indeed now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

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