Ash Wednesday: “Repent and Believe the Gospel!”

“Even now, says the Lord, return to Me with your whole heart.”

We are loved by a Father Who will never let us go, a Father Who loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son.  We begin Lent with the reminder that its foundation is first and foremost the love of the Triune God for us.  This love expresses itself in an invitation we will hear many times during this season—an invitation to repent, to return, to come to Him with our whole heart.  He has made it perfectly clear what His posture is toward us and now it is up to us to make our response.

What should this response look like?  In a certain sense, the command to return to Him with our whole heart is reminiscent of the Great Commandment, that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength. That then leads us to ask, what can I do that  will help me to fall more in love with this Triune God Who loved me first? The obvious response is that that love relationship is a graced relationship, a supernatural relationship, and so can only be maintained and nourished by supernatural means.  What are those means?  They are beautifully summarized in the statement by St. Luke about what constituted the normal spiritual life in the early Church:  “And they remained faithful to the teaching of the Apostles, the fellowship, the breaking of the Bread, and prayer.”  (Acts 2:42).  If we use that as our cue, then it gives us wonderful examples of how to grow in our love during this time.  We are faithful to the teachings of the Apostles first and foremost when we read them, meditate on them, and plead with the Holy Spirit to root them in our hearts and minds.  Immersion in the Scripture necessarily increases our Faith which then has an impact on our whole life.  So, a practical way to do this would be to pick one of the Gospels, especially St. John’s, and to read it every day, for ten or fifteen minutes, prayerfully opening our hearts and minds to this gift of truth for us.  If we pray before we read it: “Lord Jesus, as I read Your Gospel, help me fall more deeply in love with You as Your disciple” this will help us to avoid it becoming rote, or just a task we are doing.  His Presence in the Word of God is one of the four ways the Constitution on the Liturgy mentioned that the Lord Jesus is truly present in the Mass.  We can take advantage of this “Real Presence” in our homes every day.

To make some extra efforts during this holy season to spend time with brothers and sisters, praying and reflecting on our life with the Lord Jesus, as we join with them in fellowship is another one of those means to experience His real presence, for He promised, as the Constitution on the Liturgy also points out, to be present when two or more gather in His Name! The ultimate experience of His Real Presence is, of course, the Real Presence of the Eucharistic Lord Himself.  If we can attend Mass more frequently during this time, there is nothing we can do to receive the Lord Jesus that is more effective than actually receiving the Lord Jesus! To also spend more time in His Eucharistic Presence, just adoring Him, loving Him and being loved by Him will also feed our hearts and minds.

As we begin this holy season, it is a good time to re-evaluate our prayer life.  Are we utilizing all of the four categories that Pope St. John Paul the Great regularly presented to us—the charismatic, the contemplative, the Marian, and the Eucharistic–to prayerfully consider which might need a little extra attention during this season that we may continue to grow in our prayer life?  This is a time of great grace for us, if we use it well; we know it will work, for it is built on the foundation of the King of Kings Himself inviting us to come closer to Him.  Let us fully open our hearts that we may be ever more and more the disciples the Lord Jesus has called us to be! — Fr. Ed