We started Lent with the beautiful celebration of Ash Wednesday. At Sacred Heart, we are beginning a preaching and FaithGroup series: Lenten Growth. Growth is a journey, as Lent is a journey, and Ash Wednesday is our sign-up.
The words, “Repent and believe in the gospel,” are said while a cross of ash is drawn on our foreheads. The ashes represent our final destiny as physical beings—dust to dust—and the cross is our ultimate destiny as followers of Christ.
But where we say “repent” (translating the Greek word metanoia) we should say “change” as in experience transformation, conversion. This year we want to suggest that we could very well say—Grow! Lent is an excellent opportunity, an “acceptable time” to intentionally generate growth, both in our lives, in general, and in our lives of faith.
A lot will be reflected upon in the next Sundays, but the gospel tonight, which we read every Ash Wednesday and is part of the Sermon on the Mount we have been reading the last five Sundays, lays down the three traditional observances of Lent. We can look at them as a way to generate intentional growth. Jesus speaks about prayer, about fasting and about almsgiving.
We do many kinds of prayers, but the prayer in tonight’s gospel, the prayer of Lent, should be a silent prayer—one we incorporate into our lives as a way to grow into our relationship with God. It is a prayer that becomes a dialogue. Establish a habit of finding 10-15 minutes to pray in silence.
Fasting is, technically, a very easy demand: we only do it twice a year (Ash Wednesday, Good Friday) and really, one meal and two snacks adding up to a meal do not make it impossible to do. Fasting is there as a symbol of our intention to grow in needing less than we think. Fasting has been adapted in modern times into something we give up for Lent. I believe it works as a sign of something deeper we want to accomplish. But really, if you asked someone who loves you what you should give up, they would not say chocolate, or coffee… They would love you by telling you something in terms of behavior.
So yes, give something up materially and give the money to the poor to fulfill the third observance, almsgiving, growing in our generosity and care for the most neglected. But give up also something in terms of attitude or behavior. Grow by avoiding that attitude.
We came up with a list of behaviors, 25 of them. Maybe you can go through the list here and see if you want to work on any of these behaviors that may have a negative effect in your life. Perhaps we can show it to the person who is helping you to find what to give up.
Do Lent: Grow, and believe in the Gospel.