Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season, Fasting and Abstinence

Today is Ash Wednesday, the very first day and the beginning of Lent. What is Lent? and why is it 40 days long? Lent is the season, the time when we prepare ourselves, and make ourselves truly worthy to celebrate and commemorate the most important event in our year, that is the Holy Week, when we will remember Christ’s Passion and death, His great Sacrifice for our sake on the cross, and ultimately through His resurrection, we have hope of eternal life.

In order to be able to properly and fully celebrate the important Holy Week, this is why we prepare ourselves, in this 40 days of Lenten season. Why 40? Because 40 has long been associated in the Bible as the symbol of suffering, of waiting, and of purification, to prepare someone or a group of people for the ultimate end, happiness as given by God.

The people of Israel after being freed from slavery in Egypt, had to wonder for 40 years before reaching the Promised Land, after they rejected the Lord and His assurance, fearing instead the Canaanites whose presence terrified the Israelites and made them to complain that they would have had better life back where they were in slavery. The 40 years of journey through the desert is to root out all the dissidents, all of them who died, except the two, including Joshua, who surveyed the Promised Land and stayed faithful to God’s promise.

Elijah travelled for 40 days to the mountain of the Lord after being chased and persecuted by King Ahab of Israel. There Elijah met the Lord, who gave him renewed strength and courage to return and face King Ahab, and bring forth the Lord back to the people of Israel, delivering them from the worship of pagan gods.

Then ultimately, Christ Himself, fasted for 40 days and nights in the desert, and was tempted thrice by the devil. This happened after His baptism by John the Baptist and before He began His ministry in this world. He resisted all temptations of the devil and rebuked him for his insolence against the Lord. This 40 days is therefore representative of the same kind of time of preparation and of purification before something great and holy is begun.

Therefore, we too, are called in, these 40 days, to also prepare ourselves, spiritually in particular, for the celebration of our Lord’s Passion and death. To facilitate this, the Church has instituted Ash Wednesday as the beginning of the Lenten season, where ashes are imposed on the forehead of the faithful, and also the rules on fasting and abstinence.

Why ash? Ash is the symbolism of nothingness, and a reminder of dust where we came from. God created Adam, the first man out of earth and dust, and as Adam, and indeed other human dies, their bodies turn back into dust, into nothingness, though the soul remains. This is to remind us that our earthly life is just temporary, and that we should not do what is futile in this world, that is to seek worldly power and wealth, and dedicate our entire life for these, as in the end, we are nothing before God. This ash symbolises the great humility that we took upon, before the throne of God, asking for His great mercy.

Fasting refers to the practice of eating only a single full meal in the day, and with up to two ‘snacks’ or also commonly known as ‘collations’, which purpose is for physical discipline, to help us to prepare ourselves spiritually through the rejection of worldly temptations in the form of food and good things, that we can truly focus ourselves fully on the Lord. In the past, we used to fast much more often than now, as in the present, we are actually only required to fast on Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday itself.

Meanwhile, abstinence refer to the practice of, traditionally, shunning meat from all meals of the day, which is similar in intent to fasting, except that one does not need to limit the meal to just one meal and maximum of two snacks, but simply abstain from eating meat for that day. Traditionally too, this is done every Friday during Lent. However, in fact, we can also abstain from other things, even non-food items. We can abstain from things that occupy us the most, and even those we are addicted to. These practices, if we do them correctly and meaningfully, will only make us more prepared and ready for the commemoration of our Lord’s great Sacrifice and Resurrection, which is 40 days from now.

May God bless us all during this Lenten season, and I wish you all, happy Lent and have a great and fruitful season of recollection and repentance this Lent!

Indonesian version of my main blog and future versions for the Evangelisation of the Faith

I have created a version of my blog in the Indonesian language, which is the language of the country of my birth. As I realised that many Catholics in Indonesia are not able to understand English, this will enable my blog to reach out to more people, particularly Indonesian Catholics.

In the similar way, I am planning to establish other versions of my blog in Latin and Italian once I am competent enough in both languages, and in the long term maybe French, Spanish, Portuguese, and even Chinese and Japanese, to allow the Word of God and the faith to be spread to more people around the world, particularly those from non-English speaking background.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 : Ash Wednesday (Gospel Reading)

Mark 6 : 1-6, 16-18

Be careful not to make a show of your righteousness before people. If you do so, you do not gain anything from your Father in heaven. When you give something to the poor, do not have it trumpeted before you, as do those who want to be seen in the synagogues and in the streets, in order to be praised by the people. I assure you, they have already been paid in full.

If you give something to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your gift remains really secret. Your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.

When you pray, do not be like those who want to be seen. They love to stand and pray in the synagogues or on street corners to be seen by everyone. I assure you, they have already been paid in full. When you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father who is with you in secret; and your Father who sees what is kept secret will reward you.

When you fast, do not put on a miserable face as do the hypocrites. They put on a gloomy face, so that people can see that they are fasting. I tell you this : they have been paid in full already. When you fast, wash your face and make yourself look cheerful, because you are not fasting for appearances or for people, but for your Father who sees beyond appearances. And your Father, who sees what is kept secret, will reward you.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 : Ash Wednesday (Second Reading)

2 Corinthians 5 : 20 – 2 Corinthians 6 : 2

So we present ourselves as ambassadors in the name of Christ, as if God Himself makes an appeal to you through us. Let God reconcile you; this we ask you in the name of Christ. He had no sin, but God made Him bear our sin, so that in Him we might share the holiness of God.

Being God’s helpers we beg you : let it not be in vain that you received this grace of God. Scripture says : “At the favourable time I listened to you, on the day of salvation I helped you. This is the favourable time, this is the day of salvation.”

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 : Ash Wednesday (Psalm)

Psalm 50 : 3-4, 5-6a, 12-13, 14 and 17

Have mercy on me, o God, in Your love. In Your great compassion blot out my sin. Wash me thoroughly of my guilt; cleanse me of evil.

For I acknowledge my wrongdoings and have my sins ever in mind. Against You alone have I sinned; what is evil in Your sight I have done.

Create in me, o God, a pure heart; give me a new and steadfast spirit. Do not cast me out of Your presence nor take Your Holy Spirit from me.

Give me again the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. O Lord, open my lips, and I will declare Your praise.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013 : Ash Wednesday (First Reading)

Joel 2 : 12-18

YHVH says, “Yet even now, return to Me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning. Rend your heart, not your garment. Return to YHVH, your God – gracious and compassionate.”

YHVH is slow to anger, full of kindness, and He repents of having punished. Who knows? Probably He will relent once more and spare some part of the harvest from which we may bring sacred offerings to YHVH, your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion, proclaim a sacred fast, call a solemn assembly. Gather the people, sanctify the community, bring together the elders, even the children and infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his bed, and the bride her room.

Between the vestibule and the altar, let the priests, YHVH’s ministers, weep and say : “Spare your people, YHVH. Do not humble them or make them an object of scorn among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples : Where is their God?

YHVH has become jealous for His land; He has had pity on His people.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013 : 5th Week of Ordinary Time (Scripture Reflection)

Christ reminds us today that what justifies us is not the externals, or rather I would say, not just the externals, but even more important is the internal. If our soul is not clean, and we do not keep ourselves pure in heart and filled with the love of God, we will not be able to justify ourselves before God, even if we do all the rites correctly and follow all the traditions. Christ today is not about abolishing all traditions and rites, as arguably many who misunderstood and misinterpreted these words of the Lord as the abhorrence against all sorts of tradition, including the Apostolic Tradition of our own Holy Roman Catholic Church, would believe, and therefore would even attack the Church Christ has established, just because we keep the Tradition and follow closely the teachings passed down to us from the Apostles.

What Christ meant was that, we should not and indeed must not follow traditions blindly. Tradition is good, and indeed it is necessary, but to follow the tradition just because for the sake of following it or just because it is there is ultimately empty. What Christ wants is that we understand the Traditions, and follow the Tradition with the correct heart and alignment of our being towards God through these traditions. For these Traditions, unlike those of the extreme Laws made by the Jewish leaders at that time, should serve to make one closer to God, by the correct orientation of our hearts towards Him, through greater understanding of our faith, through the Tradition!

The Jews has a total of 613 laws that was crafted from the laws given by God to Moses in the Mountain of the Lord, Mount Horeb. These laws govern many things in the Jewish community, from etiquette, marriage, and even to simple matters like the washing of hands and eating utensils as mentioned in today’s Gospel passage. However, strict adherence to these laws, including that of the Sabbath often mentioned, has made man actually subservient to these laws, being no more than just slaves to the Tradition these elders created from the laws of God given to Moses.

These laws, while they were good, they were there because of the rebellious nature of the people of Israel against God at that time. Remember that while Moses was up on the mountain, the people of Israel revolted and forced Aaron to build for them a golden calf for them to worship as their god. This and many other instances of disobedience has caused the Lord to be tough against the people of Israel, all out of His love for them, desiring their salvation, and did not wish them to falter again and fall into hell due to them worshipping pagan gods instead of the One, True God.

However, Christ had come, not to abolish all the laws and Tradition, but rather to perfect them. He was there to make the understanding of these Tradition and laws much clearer to us. For in Christ, the greatest thing is love, and nothing is greater than love, either one’s love for God, or one’s love for his or her brethren. It is in the love of God that we have to base our Tradition, and He was set to make all the rules and Laws truly pure again, that is to have these laws solely for the purpose of glorifying God and to make all of us closer to God, and not instead make us slaves to these laws and be suppressed by them.

For God, who had created the world, the entire universe, had created mankind, in His image, to be the greatest and the most beloved of all His creations. To us, He has given authority over all creation, and over the world. These laws are there, because as administrators of this world, we must be responsible administrators, and use the resources given to us wisely. Otherwise, being weak as we are, we would readily succumb to greed and wanting for more and more. Ever since Adam and Eve fell into sin at the Garden of Eden, mankind had been subject to the sin of greed and avarice, to desire more and more from what is given to them by God, even to the extent of causing suffering and death to their fellow men. This is what the Lord does not want from us, as He wants us to rule over creation, but rule responsibly and wisely.

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, we who have received the Good News of the Lord, and who through the Apostolic Tradition and teachings passed down to us from the Apostles through our bishops and priests, should strive to follow and understand the Sacred Tradition and the faith that we have, utilising both in our race and journey towards the Lord. For faith without nurturing will not grow, and through the beauty of the Tradition, manifested in the Liturgy of the Church, we can grow deeper in faith, if we open ourselves to understanding more on the Liturgy and the Tradition we have.

This is why, brothers and sisters in Christ, it is important for us to appreciate the Liturgy, to seek to fully understand every rites and parts of our Liturgy in the Mass and other celebrations, and to fully participate through our greater understanding, that whenever we attend the Mass, as frequently as we can do so, we will grow ever greater in our faith and love of the Lord, so much that not only that we are brought closer to the Lord who created us, and who loves us so much to send His Son, Jesus Christ to explain to us about the Traditions, and to shed more light to us so that we can understand our faith in Him better through these Sacred Traditions and rites; but also to be good and responsible stewards of this world and its resources, as given by God to be our right, but also to be our responsibility to take care of.

Let us therefore pray that all of us will be able to grow deeper in our understanding of the Liturgy of the Church, and through it the Sacred Tradition and teachings given to us through the Apostles, and finally to grow ever deeper in our love and passion for the Lord. May God always bless all of us, all the days of our life. Amen!