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Lent2016: We Give Up to Take Up

Dear Friends, We begin the holy season of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter through prayer, penance and works of charity. Today, at the inauguration of Lenten observance, the Word of God invites us to an ever more authentic conversion of heart. God our Saviour is ever merciful, ever responding generously to any human movement of conversion.

The first reading from Prophet Joel (2:12-18) is a pressing invitation to conversion. The Lord invites Israel, invites all of us, invites you and me,  to return to Him with all our heart. Conversion should involve the whole person, and his/ her determining point, the heart, should be at the centre of conversion. Fasting, weeping and mourning are means of expressing sorrow and repentance for our sins by which we turned away from God. But what He wants is not mere external signs but genuine repentance, a real change of heart. If we have gone away from God in any way big or small, we must turn back on our steps and return to Him. This we can do without any fear or rejection because He is gracious and merciful.

The ash we receive on Ash Wednesday is the sign that we intend to clean the mess in our lives in forty days, and get back on track to the reign of God. Today, we are reminded, “There is a little good in the worst of us and a little bad in  the best of us.”

During Lent we look inside of us and find out that we are very much alive to the world and all it contains. We fill our homes, our bank accounts, and our bodies with all the passing things of this world. So during this time we try to turn and go the other way. We pray, we fast, we give our money to the poor.

The mark of the ashes reminds us that we are sinners and sins have drawn us in many directions and they all lead to death. No matter what we gain in this world – money, power, possessions, pleasures, dominance, influence, comfort, security – it all ends sooner or later.

Ashes also remind us of giving up and taking on. “What are you giving up for Lent?” We try to think of things to give up. Will it be candy, desserts, TV, what will it be? That’s what a child asks. As we get older the objects change but the question is similar. What will I give up, we ask ourselves? Will it be cigarettes or  booze?  Whatever it is we decide, giving up something seems to make us feel like we’ve gotten into the spirit of Lent. By giving up bad habits, we are doing something to reform our lives.

Giving up things that aren’t bad or sinful, like candy, can teach us self-discipline, help us learn to handle and control ourselves. Yes, giving up is a start. But for the serious-minded person it can’t end there. There are things we must get into the habit of doing. We must acquire the habit of loving people correctly, of doing things for the benefit of others.

So, as well as the “giving up”, let us “take-up.”  Take up being kinder, less irritable and less critical. Take up being helpful, more positive, a better person. When someone asks: “What did you give up for Lent?”, say with confidence “I gave up myself, and took up others.

And so let us begin Lent by receiving these ashes. The mark imposed on our foreheads may soon disappear, but the spirit of repentance should remain with us till we are totally pure and free from sin. We should walk the Gospel way of life till the end so that we can participate in the glorious resurrection of our Lord.

May Almighty God, slow to anger, rich in mercy and full of love for his people, have mercy on us, may he forgive us our sins and lead us to everlasting life. Amen.

I request all my friends to whisper a prayer for me.

God bless you all.