Lent 2007: February 2010 Archives

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Ash Wednesday

Joel 2:12-18
Psalm 50:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 15
2 Corinthians 5:20 -- 6:2
Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18


Ash Wednesday addresses the heart. Ashes are sprinkled on our heads, but Lent is lived in the heart. God wants pierced hearts. God looks for the broken heart. "Even now," says the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments" (Jl 2:12-13). Paradoxically, in order to give God one's whole heart, it must first be pierced and broken. This is what we mean when we speak of compunction and contrition.

The traditional Lenten disciplines -- fasting and abstinence, almsgiving, silence, keeping vigil, and increasing the time devoted to lectio divina each day -- are not ends in themselves. They are the tried and true means by which one arrives at having a pierced and broken heart, at some measure of compunction and contrition.

Joyful Fasting

1. Fasting and abstinence help to crack the heart's stony shell; hunger makes one vulnerable. But here is the catch: Our Lord would have us fast as if we were feasting. One of the fruits of fasting is spiritual joy. Fasting cleanses and refines the palate of the soul, making it possible to "taste and see that the Lord is sweet" (Ps 33:9). "When you fast do not look dismal . . . anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mt 6:16-17). The fasting pleasing to Our Lord makes the face cheerful and lifts up the heart.

Fasting (going without eating) and abstinence (not eating certain foods) need not be enormous feats of ascetical prowess. One's fasting and abstinence should always be proportionate to one's health and state in life. The value of fasting and abstinence is that they allow us to feel a certain emptiness. They put us in touch with our real hunger: the hunger that only God can satisfy.

Ultimately all fasting and abstinence have a Eucharistic finality. "He who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (Jn 6:35), says the Lord. Fasting is doing what it is supposed to do when it sends us hungering and thirsting to the Word of God and to the Holy Mysteries of the Altar.

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

Donations for Silverstream Priory