Challenge Yourself This Lent
Joel 2: 12 – 18; 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2; Matthew 6: 1 – 6, 16 – 18
Lent is one of the Seasons in the Church calendar. Every year, Ash Wednesday marks the
beginning of Lent and Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, ends it.
This period of 40 days calls upon the faithful for repentance and reparation for the sins committed.
This reflects the time of 40 years the Israelites journeyed through the desert before reaching the
Also, Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness before launching his public ministry of the
proclamation of the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, this is known as “Desert Experience”, referring to a period of dryness, emptiness and
nothingness, forgoing comforts, conveniences and pleasures of corporal self in order to enter into
the spiritual self. This leads to ‘conversion of heart’ with a determination to do God’s will.
This intense preparation, consisting of three main means of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, guides
all to the Paschal Triduum celebrating the dying and rising of Lord Jesus. And Lent is the journey
towards this grand culmination. For, Easter is not just a feast but a Feast of feasts!
Ashes are an ancient symbol of sorrow and mourning, penance and repentance. Ashes take us to
the very end of things to death and finality. Ashes are equivalent to dust. When human flesh,
composed of dust or clay, becomes lifeless and a corpse, it becomes decomposed, and it returns to
dust or ash.
Ash Wednesday reminds us that we have become dead by sin, but we should rise to new life by
repentance. “When we come forward to receive on Ash Wednesday, we are saying that we are
sorry for our sins, and that we want to use the season of Lent to correct our faults, purify our
hearts, control our desires and grow in holiness so we will be prepared to celebrate Easter with
great joy” (The CatholicSpirit.com).
Let us begin the Lent 2022 with the celebration of Ash Wednesday reflecting on the words of
Prophet Joel (2:12-14):
“Yet, even now”, says the Lord,
“return to me with all your heart,
with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
and tear your hearts and not your garments.”
Return to the Lord, your God,
for he is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger, and abounding in mercy,
and repents of evil.
Who knows whether he will not turn and repent,
and leave a blessing behind him,
a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?”
For the next forty days, we will have opportunity after opportunity to discover just how gracious
and merciful our heavenly Father is. We will also have countless opportunities to respond to his
grace an mercy through repentance, generosity worship, forgiveness, and acts of service. So let’s
try our best to keep our hearts soft and open the Lord, because that’s when the changes really
Through the ritual of ashes that is symbolic of penance, we are reminded that we as sinners are but
dust and ashes. The ashes also remind us that we are in need of God’s mercy and forgiveness;
that we need to turn away from sin.
The ashes given today are a sign that we want to repent; to turn our lives around (conversion) in
preparation for Easter.
Today’s first reading from the prophet Joel (2: 12 – 18) highlights this call to conversion. It is a
clear call to return to the Lord “with fasting, and weeping and mourning.” We return with trust
because our God is “gracious and merciful…slow to anger, rich in mercy and relenting in
punishment.” The prophet Joel does not call only for individual conversion. His appeal is to the
entire community. “Blow the trumpet in Zion, proclaim a fast, call an assembly; gather the
people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the
breast.” Imitating that biblical tradition and later penitents over the centuries, we all become a
community of penitents seeking to grow closer to God through repentance and renewal.
Paul appeals to us to “be reconciled to God.” In 2 Corinthians 5:20 – 6:2 he insists that “now is a
very acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” In other words, the time to return to the Lord
is now, this holy season, this very day.
The Gospel of Matthew 6: 1 – 6, 16 – 18 gives us good advice on how we are to act during Lent.
Jesus speaks of the three main disciplines of the season: almsgiving, prayer and fasting. All of
these spiritual activities Jesus teaches us, are to be done without any desire for recognition by
There is a certain irony evident in the Gospel! We are told to wash our faces so that we do not
appear to be doing penance. Yet on Ash Wednesday we go around with ‘dirt’ on our forehead!
This is just another way of Jesus reminding us not to perform religious acts for public recognition.
We don’t wear the ashes to proclaim our holiness but to acknowledge publicly that we are indeed
a community of sinners in need of repentance and God’s mercy.
The Jewish Hasidic tradition teaches that everyone should have two pockets in their coats with
two slips of paper. One slip says: “I am only dust and ashes”, the other: “For me the whole
universe was created.”
We embrace both these statements tonight: we are dust, at the same time, we are children of God.
Let us reflect on the words of St John Chrysostom:
“Do you fast?
Give me proof of it by your works.
If you see a poor man, take pity on him.
If you see a friend being honoured, do not envy him.
O not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands, and all the
members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin.
Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful.
Let the ear fast, by not listening to evil talk and gossip.
Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism.
For what good is if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?
May He who came to the world to save sinners, strengthen us to complete the fast with humility,
have mercy on us and save us.”
Here are a few things to give up during Lent:
- Give up complaining. Give up grumbling. There is much to be thankful for. Accept, support,
approve, praise and applaud, and be satisfied with what you have.
- Give up worrying. Worry is the opposite of faith. There are things to be concerned about, but
nothing to worry about. Be assured of God’s care and be patient for his plan to unfold.
- Give up discouragement. God is for you, with you, not against you. Be encouraged.
- Give up bitterness. Bitterness is like poisoning yourself. It will destroy none but you. Try to
develop a sweet personality.
- Give up hatred. Forgive and watch your future come alive! The world is changed by loving
and forgiving people.
- Give up gossiping. Speak well f your neighbour, you might just se him/her return the favour.
Spread good comments about other people.
- Give up blaming. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
- Give up staying away from prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Provide your family with a firm
foundation of faith. Study the Bible. Make friends. Try to live a hope-filled life. Thank God for
another week of life.
- Give up giving up. Hang in there!! Even with all its problems, life is a good and gracious gift!
Perhaps we should give up doing things in our own strength and give it all over to God. Martin
Luther once said, “I have held many things in my hands and I have lost them all; but whatever I
placed in God’s hands, I still possess.”
- Give up staying in your shells. We ought to get out of the house and let our light shine!
Spend time with others. Find God in others. The key to finding God this Lent is a soft heart.
God is more concerned about what’s in your heart than he is about what’s in your refrigerator.
Wish you a grace filled Season of Lent. God bless.