Reflections on Today’s Ash Wednesday

This evening we will have a special meditation on the Stations of the Cross. But it will be a special meditation, hopefully leading to deeper prayer, aided by a set of fifteen stations of the cross beginning with the agony of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane and ending not with the burial of Jesus but with the Resurrection.

The meditations will be challenged by a set of fifteen paintings by Mr. Elvi Tamayo now hanging in the Chapel of Our Lady of Peñafrancia in Faber Hall of the ADDU Community Center of the First Companions. I say “challenged” because these paintings do not simply depict a realist’s attempt at recalling the events associated with the suffering and death of Jesus. They are rather, in my personal view, images of the artist’s personal straining in a dark and endangered world to recover, but only very reverently in deepest silence, the hardly discernible signs of love and compassion that led to our redemption. They challenge those whose highly educated sophistication leads them to think they understand the journey Jesus traveled to say, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” They think they understand the depth of Jesus’ agony when he said, “Not my will, Father, your will be done!” Elvi Tamayo’s stations shroud the mystery of God’s love in our confusion at how to respond to this love, but they also unveil not our triumph but God’s in our redemption.

The Stations of the Cross are a devotion which could fill our entire Lenten season, climaxing of course with the celebration of the Paschal Mystery in Holy Week. I am happy that in our Matina Campus there will be a special celebration today of the Stations of the Cross.

Of course, many today will be going to Mass or visiting the Chapel in order themselves to recall mortality, to admit their sinfulness, to repent, to believe in the Gospel. This is good. On their foreheads ashes will be imposed with the minister’s words, “Remember you are dust. Unto dust you shall return” (Gen 3:19) or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Recalling that life ends is not an exercise in morbidity, it is an exercise in valuing the limited time we have in this life to do as we must. In our faith, what we must do is distance ourselves from our sins, those actions, often repeated habitually, which harm us or harm others. We distance ourselves from our sins so that we can appreciate more fully the Gospel, “the breadth and length, the height and depth of Christ’s love” (Eph 3:18) as this impacts on us personally. Here, perhaps the chant at the beginning of the Mass may surprise us. It is not that God forgives because of our repentance, but “You overlook people’s sins to bring them to repentance.” There is nothing in us that he does not know. “Yahweh, you have searched me and you know me. You know my sitting down and my rising up…” (Psalm 139). Yet, from the Cross, you love me. In this love is my confusion and shame. In this love the hope of my repentance.

For the Lenten Season, the Gospel offers advise on three points:

First, “take care not to perform righteous deed in order that people may see them; otherwise you will have no recompense from you heavenly Father” (Mt. 6:1).   Do good not to be seen, but do good to do good. For this Lenten Season we may be being invited to leave our habitual complacency and comfort zones to do good. Doing good may mean relatively small things: truly encourage a child in her studies, help an elder in need. But it may also mean larger things, like going out of your way to heal a wounded relationship, or working against the forces around me that tear down other persons and hate. Doing good may even mean putting ourselves in harm’s way, like when we must stand up for justice or insist on a path to real and lasting peace.

Second, pray. More important than ashes is prayer. “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them… But when you pray, go to you inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you” (Mt. 6:5-6). This Lent, pray. Structure your day so that you can pray. You cannot be too busy for prayer. The busier you are, the more you need prayer. The noisier, the more confusing, the more distressing life becomes, especially when you are being called upon to act against the noise, the confusion and the distress, the more you need prayer. Without prayer, you do not know who you are. Without prayer, without God, you can do nothing (cf. John 15:5).

Remember also: “In praying do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:7-8). In the silence of your prayer, listen to the beat of Jesus’ heart, and allow him to listen to yours.

Third, fast. “But when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites… Anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to you Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (cf . Mt. 6:16-18). He will repay you with greater self-possession and freedom. He will reward you with the greater ability to stand away from your dependencies in order to stand for what is truly necessary. This is summed up in the priest’s prayer at today’s Mass: “Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service, so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.” Fasting is not just about taking on pain for the sake of pain. It is about service and preparing ourselves to serve better. It is about self-restraint and self-conquest, so that in doing good we might with Jesus say, “Father, not my will. Your will be done.”

The Lenten Season is about love. It begins and ends with God’s love manifest on the Cross. Through doing good, prayer and fasting, we are invited to deeper love.




About Joel Tabora, S.J.

Jesuit. Educator
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