Lenton Reflections: Ash Wednesday

Reflection by Professor Thomas Groome

(The following article is a repost from Boston College's website. Thomas Groome is a professor at Boston college well regarded in both Protestant and Catholic circles for his work in Christian Education.)

Readings for Ash Wednesday: 
Joel 2:12-18
2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
Matthew 6: 1-6; 16-18

Do I Need Lent at all This Year?

I’m just wondering – do I need Lent at all this year? Now, my spouse certainly thinks I do, and my teenage son would agree, but let’s say, “that’s just because they love me” (and live with me). Too close to be objective!

You see, no matter how many positive sermons I hear about Lent – that it’s not about giving things up but doing good things instead – my problem is, I still think that maybe – just maybe - I should give some things up. It is hard to break old ways!  Besides, I have fond memories of the last time I really did give up something cherished. When I was about ten, my Mom gave up candy for Lent (she had a big “sweet tooth”), and I decided to be in solidarity with her. Then, what to do with the candy that came our way? My Mom said we could save it ‘till Easter and we did.

So my give up became a pile up; oh what an Easter we both had (when my tummy ache wore off). And contrary to the directions of the Gospel reading for this Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18) that we not boast about our good deeds or be ostentatious in our piety, everyone in the village knew that I’d given up candy and what a sacrifice it was – and many added to the pile.

So what to do about Lent this year – and how to keep it quiet?

Pause and Reflect

  • What are your own associations with Lent?
  • Do you really think you need it at all this year?
  • If so, then your first thoughts about what to do – or give up?

God’s Suggestion

Well, here’s an idea!  In the first scripture reading for today, God speaks through the prophet Joel with an extraordinary invitation:  “Return to me with your whole heart.”  My first instinct (which hints that I may need Lent after all) is to protest that I really haven’t been away from God –much – in order to return. But then I see the term “whole heart” and I’m brought up short. I checked the Hebrew to be sure, and it really does mean, “with everything you’ve got.” Everything?

Now, I’m becoming uncomfortable. I have given my heart to God . . . well, except for … and then the list begins. I recognize aspects of my life that I have not given over entirely to God yet. And as I go down the list, they all ask me to “give up” something – like pride, anger, jealousy, envy, greed (of many kinds), impatience, being judgmental, sarcasm, negativity, gossip and so on.

You see, I’m wedded to some of those “cold sins” – as my father liked to call them. (Never did ask him what the “hot” ones are.) Oh, they take up just one little corner of my big generous heart, but they’re there nonetheless; meanwhile, God wants my whole heart. So, how to give them up?

As any addict in recovery will attest, giving up addictions is done only with the help of Higher Power. So, I need God’s grace, even to mount my own best efforts – a partnership. But I know for sure that the God who wants my whole heart will more than meet me half way.

Reflect and Decide

  • What corner of your heart are you holding back from God?
  • What would you need to give up to give over your whole heart?
  • Might you ask God for the grace you need, just to get started?

The Pile Up?

And what (instead of candy) might “pile up” in my life this Lent as I try to give God my whole heart?  Joel again says it well: he promises that I will encounter God as “gracious and merciful . . . slow to anger and rich in kindness.”  In other words, God invites us to give over our whole heart for our own good - that we may experience, all the more, God’s unconditional love and mercy.  (Joel would like Pope Francis!)

Maybe I do need Lent this year after all.