Ready for Lent? Thinking about discipleship…
As you know, for the last few weeks, our Sunday Gospels have been com- ing from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus’ great set piece sermon where he sets out the obligations and duties of being a disciple. Although this weekend will be last occasion for this year at least, when our gospel is taken from the Sermon on the Mount, there is one more occasion, when the liturgy revisits it – Ash Wednesday.
Ash Wednesday is of course the beginning of Lent, the season of Forty days when the Church focuses our thoughts and actions on preparing for Easter. As such, the gospel we read on Ash Wednesday is most important. And the fact that it comes from the Sermon on the Mount, directs our minds to those themes of discipleship which we have been thinking about these last weeks. The gospel of Ash Wednesday gives us a very practical as well as a deeply spiritual steer towards discovering the pathway our discipleship challenges us to take.
Fasting, almsgiving and prayer are the foundational elements of our Lenten practice, and we should seek to understand them as a whole rather than as separate. One feeds into the other since developing our prayer life feeds into the practical application of our almsgiving. Similarly
fasting makes space in our lives to ponder the contemplative and spiritual realities that help us re-focus our thoughts. As disciples and followers of Christ, we should use these Lenten disciplines to re-assess our priorities and to re-order our lives, to try and re-conform ourselves as we seek to become more Christ like. As Jesus puts it to us in the gospel; what is my attitude to money? Am I its slave? What is my attitude to material wealth? Is it something I prioritise above anything else? Do I overindulge or am I excessive in my desire to impress in the eyes of the world?
The ashes which we receive on our heads on Wednesday clearly remind us of our mortality. They are a sign that all things will pass away and how our lives too will come to their natural conclusion. The words spoken to us as we receive them, offer us a glorious hope of what is to come. As Jesus says: set your hearts on the kingdom and on its righteousness and all things will be given to you, or as he points out to us in the beatitudes how happy are those who hunger and thirst for what is right – they shall have their fill. In living out these three foundational elements generously, dili- gently and prayerfully, our Lent becomes a season of joy and of great gifts. If our fasting is seen as a means to open ourselves up to God’s grace, then it will inspire in us works of mercy and compassion which themselves are the active and demonstrable face of our prayer. May our Lent be one filled with God’s Spirit as we strive to be faithful to the Gospel and to our discipleship.