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The Catholic Defender: Article as found on friend Claudia Martin Grams Facebook Page

The Theme of the Readings for Ash Wednesday: Repent Before it is Too Late! (Joel 2:12-18; Ps 51:1-4, 10-13; 2 Cor 5:20-6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)

The forty days of Lent traditionally begin on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday, although some mistakenly count from Ash Wednesday, which is more than the traditional forty days that commemorate Jesus’s forty days fasting in the wilderness (Mt 4:1-2; Mk 1:12-13; Lk 4:1-2).

Holy Thursday is the fortieth and final day of Lent from the first Sunday of Lent. Ash Wednesday is the preparation for the Lenten fast. It is a day when we recall our mortality because our days on earth are limited (“ashes to ashes, dust to dust”), and we need to prepare our souls to be right with God before we die, and He calls us to Judgment. Ash Wednesday and the three following days are our preparation to begin our Lenten journey. The Scripture readings focus on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus teaches these three disciplines. Notice in the Gospel reading concerning the three Christian disciplines of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting that Jesus doesn’t say “if” He says “when” (Mt 6:2, 5, 16).

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 ~ The Disciplines of Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting

(Jesus said to his disciples): 1 “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see. Otherwise, expect no recompense from your heavenly Father.

2 When you give alms, for example, do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets like hypocrites looking for applause. You can be sure of this much, they are already repaid.

3 In giving alms, you are not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

4 Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

5 When you are praying, do not behave like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in synagogues or on street corners in order to be noticed. I give you my word, they are already repaid.

6 Whenever you pray, go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees what no man sees, will repay you.

7 When you fast, you are not to look glum as the hypocrites do. They change the appearance of their faces so that others may see they are fasting. I assure you, they are already repaid. 17 When you fast, see to it that you groom your hair and wash your face. 18 In that way no one can see you are fasting but your Father who is hidden; and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (NABRE).

Jesus continues His “Sermon on the Mount” that began in Matthew 5:1, moving from teaching on the commands of the Old Testament law to other standards of Christian discipleship. Jesus warned His disciples against external actions not generated from a sincere heart but offered only to be seen and admired. He gives three examples of acts that should be offered secretly in the private lives of Christians in order not to divert glory to God into glory to self:

1. Almsgiving (Mt 6:1-4)

2. Prayer (Mt 6:5-15)

3. Fasting (Mt 6:16-18)

In this passage, Jesus’s teaching is similar to the message of the prophet Joel in the first reading. External works of penance have no value in themselves. True works of penance must be related to genuine, heartfelt conversion to God. One must be careful since the danger of hypocrisy and seeking earthly praise is always present, and worldly recognition is its own reward. All that counts is that your heavenly Father sees your offering, and you can relate your gift to constant conversion and love for God.

Christians can express their interior penance in many ways. However, Sacred Scripture and the Fathers of the Church insist that the most profound expressions of interior penance, aside from the purification of Christian Baptism and the purification of martyrdom for the faith, are in the practices of almsgiving, prayer, and fasting. These three acts of Christian virtue express continual conversion in turning away from sin in three ways:

1. Almsgiving: conversion relating to others

2. Prayer: conversion relating to God

3. Fasting: conversion in relation to oneself

Each of these acts of religion offers the Christian a means of obtaining expiation of sins (CCC 1434; Sir 3:30/33-31/34; Tob 12:8-9; Jam 5:20; 1 Pt 4:8). In verses 2-6, Jesus gave a three-part teaching concerning the hidden motives of the heart and interior holiness. He discussed the righteous Christian’s obligations in the three acts that are the hallmarks of Christian penance (CCC 1434, 2043, 2447, 2462, 2744-45).

In verses 16-18, Jesus emphasizes being God-centered, not self-centered. Christians must fast secretly to receive a heavenly reward. “Fasting” is a form of penance in which a person limits the kind or quantity of food or drink consumed. “Abstinence” is refraining from a particular food or drink to increase one’s spiritual welfare or as prescribed by ecclesiastical law (universally or locally). As commonly understood, abstinence is the action that inclines a Christian to the moral virtue of the moderate intake of food and drink as dictated as an act of faith inclined toward his own moral and spiritual welfare. A typical example of abstinence is to refrain from eating meat as a personal sacrifice offered to Jesus. From the Church's earliest years, Christians have observed days of fasting and abstinence, notably during Lent, to commemorate Jesus’s Passion and death.

The obligation of the Catholic to observe days of fasting and abstinence is the 5th Precept of the Catholic Church (see CCC 2043, also see 1387; 1434, 1438). CCC 2043b: “The fifth precept (‘You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.’) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” The Church’s universal law, found in the Code of Canon Law, requires those 18 to 59 years of age to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting means partaking of only one full meal, with snacks or smaller meals permitted at two other times throughout the day. It also indicates that those 14 and older abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday and every Friday during Lent.

Use the next three days (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) to prepare for your Lenten journey by committing to submitting to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, proclaiming your sacrificial Lenten gift to God through acts of charity, offering a forty-day penitential abstaining from certain foods and drinks, and by a commitment to increase the quality of your prayer life.


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