Ash Wednesday of Lent
February 17, 2021 Cycle B
by Rev. Jose Maria Cortes, F.S.C.E., Chaplain,
Saint John Paul II National Shrine
Sunday Reading Meditations
Today, we begin the Lenten season. The collect prayer refers to this time as a “campaign of Christian service.” We are called to recenter our lives on God and on him alone: “[…] return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God” (Jl 2:12–13).
Today’s liturgy helps us understand the meaning and importance of fasting. Fasting is a means and not an end. The end is our union with God. As Saint Paul says, “Train yourself for devotion, for, while physical training is of limited value, devotion is valuable in every respect, since it holds a promise of life both for the present and for the future” (1 Tim 4:7–8).
Today’s preface presents the fruits of fasting: the restraining of our faults, the raising up of our minds, and the bestowing of virtue and its rewards.
We fast to restrain our faults. Fasting is a powerful remedy for the soul, delivering us from the dominion of the flesh. It helps us to turn away from harmful pleasures and cleanses us from attachment to sin. The Lenten season is a time of repentance: repent and believe in the gospel! We need to make reparation for our sins but also for the sins of the world. Many outrages and sacrileges are being committed against God and human dignity: “Spare, O Lord, spare your people” (Est 4:17).
To choose God and his kingdom means that we should not be overly the world and its things. As Saint John says, “Do not love the world or the things of the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life, is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn 2:15–16). As we fast, we allow the Father’s love to live in us. Fasting helps us submit to God and strengthens us in the battle with our spiritual adversaries. As Jesus says, “This kind [of evil spirit] cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting” (Mk 9:29).
We fast to raise up our minds. Fasting opens our hearts and minds to God, helping us enter into the paschal mystery. Fasting increases our desire for God. It helps us seek what is great and beautiful. “Jesus answered him [Satan], ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone”’” (Lk 4:4).
When people asked Jesus why he and his disciples were not fasting, he replied: “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast on that day” (Mk 2:19–20). Now is the time to seek the bridegroom: “I will rise then and go about the city; in the streets and crossings I will seek him whom my heart loves” (Song 3:2). Fasting prepares us for the joy of the encounter. Fasting helps us grow in our understanding of the riches hidden in Christ.
We fast to achieve virtue and its rewards. Fasting increments our virtue. In a particular way, it increases the virtue of temperance, “the moral virtue that moderates the attraction of pleasures and provides balance in the use of created goods” (CIC #1809). Fasting gives us a new perception of reality, helping us see people and things as coming from God’s hands. “And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (Mt 6:18). The reward of virtue is a life fulfilled in Christ.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Verse before the Gospel). Let us begin the Lenten season with a renewed desire to return to God with our whole hearts. May the intercession of our Blessed Mother make our Lenten journey fruitful. May the fasting that we observe help us to walk toward the joy of Easter. Amen.