Let's begin with the collect for today.
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fastingI like this for several reasons, but foremost today it calls to mind that we are in a spiritual battle. It never does to forget that, especially with Satan's wilderness tempting of Christ as prominent as it is during this season.
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Daniele Crespi (1597 - 1630)
Il Digiuno di San Carlo Borromeo / The fasting of St Charles Borromeo (c. 1625)
I always need help having the proper perspective to prepare for Easter.
Taken in this way, we can see how it is actually a relief to have done self-examination to see what has enslaved us, usually without our having been aware of it at all. What a relief to set that down. Even when we miss it, when we long for it, when we are annoyed because we can't have it, there is still a sense of relief in being forced to see with open eyes just what our addictions really are. To see how they have become so much more important to us than the harder path that leads us to a more loving relationship with God. Clarity matters. We have to know what rocks are in the way in order to avoid them.The Liberating Power of Serving God
"No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." (Mt 6:24)
God did not save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt so that they might become slaves again by bowing down to the golden calf in the desert. Nor has he freed us from the slavery of our sin so that we might bow down to the work of our own hands or to any other creature, including ourselves and our own desires. Strange as it might seem, we are not really free when we consider ourselves the masters of our own lives. From precisely that standpoint, we quickly fall into the trap of serving someone or something else: our self-images, our bosses, our spouses, our corporations, our tyrannical two-year-olds or teenagers, our homes, our cards, our portfolios, our social statuses, our egos, and the list goes on and on.
When, however, we seek to serve God, we soon learn that we thereby allow God to serve us. He wants our hearts precisely so that he might reign there: more as servant than as king. It is he who sets the table before us, who washes our feet, waits upon us, and invites us to eat of his own body. As servant, he not only nourishes us, however; but he also liberates us fro inordinate attachments that both weigh us down and enslave us. He does not merely liberate us from without, by removing obstacles that would hinder his coming into our hearts. He also and more profoundly liberates us from within; for once we have received him, he beings making order within us, freeing us from all that prohibits us from the interior freedom that characterizes the children of God. He will not allow any competition for his love; for all other loves will enslave us if they are not ordered to him, who alone can render us free.
The Putting on of Ashes
From the Initial "M" in the Introit of the Mass of Ashes on Ash Wednesday
From the Missal à l'usage de Saint-Didier d'Avignon c. 1370
Via Idle Speculations which has information about the tradition of ashes on the forehead
We surely can see why the readings for today included this from Joel which spoke to my heart.
Even now, says the LORD,And this from Psalm 51 which is surely what we all crave.
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God.
A clean heart create for me, O God,I do praise him for giving us this season of Lent ... which is something that I never, ever feel until it has begun. But now that I am face to face with Lent, having considered this morning that "Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return" ... which means, get serious because you never know when this life will end ... I remember how good it is to consider priorities, to leave behind the transitory, and strive upwards toward the immortal life we were made to have.
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your Holy Spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me.
O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth shall proclaim your praise
Yes, Lent is good.
by Duane Keiser