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A fervent cry for God’s mercy & forgiveness

This February 14, the Church observes Ash Wednesday. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ.At the beginning of the 6th century, out of a desire to have 40 days of actual fasting (Sundays being non-fasting days), abstinence would begin on the preceding Wednesday, which eventually came to mark the start of Lent.Holding special penance for those guilty of serious sin is an early custom and starts at the beginning of Lent. Earlier, this would be on the Monday after the first Sunday of Lent. Later, it was shifted to Ash Wednesday. The penitents in those days were given penitential garment and ashes were sprinkled on them followed by the rite of expulsion from the Church. These special garments and ashes receive inspiration from the Old Testament.The rite of expulsion disappeared in the 10th century, but the rite of ashes remained. In 1901, Pope Urban II recommended this practice to all churches. In the new missal, this rite of ashes takes place after gospel and homily. Today, the summons of Jesus in the gospel according to St Mark, ‘Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel’ (Mk.1:15) and the traditional formula, ‘Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return’ (Gen.3:19) are used while putting ashes on the forehead. The imposition of ashes is a penitential practice symbolising our dependence upon God’s mercy and forgiveness.As a Church, we ponder and pray over the call given by Jesus, who, according to St Matthew, calls us to pray, fast, and give alms. ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites’, ‘when you fast, do not look gloomy’, ‘when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing’ (Mt 6:5,16,3).
Prayer is that process of listening and responding to God’s daily call, which sustains and nurtures our relationship with our triune God. Pope Francis, in his Lenten message, says by devoting more time to prayer we enable our hearts to root out our secret lies and forms of self-deception, and then to find the consolation God offers.Fasting is a very special form of penance and Jesus’ second call has been a consistent part of our Catholic tradition. All of us have to deal with areas of servitude, whether in regard to smoking or alcohol consumption, misused sexuality, uncontrolled gambling, psychological hang-ups, spiritual obsessions, use of stimulants, immoderate use of the Internet, excessive amounts of TV-watching or preoccupations with other forms of entertainment like gossiping. By fasting and self-denial, by living lives of moderation we have more energy to devote to God’s purposes and a better self-esteem that helps us to be more concerned with the wellbeing of others.Alms-giving is the third call of the Lord. Jesus was always concerned about those who were poor and in need. He was impressed by the widow who, though having so little, shared her resources with others. ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow put in more than all the rest; for those others have all made offerings from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has offered her whole livelihood.’ (Lk 21:3-4).During this 40-day period, each year, the Church unites itself to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. To prepare to celebrate the Easter mysteries, we devote time during this special season to pray, to perform works of charity, and to deny ourselves by fulfilling obligations more faithfully.The writer is a member of the Karnataka-Goa province of the order of Discalced Carmelites based at the Carmelite Monastery, Margao. [TOI]

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