Today we take part in an ancient tradition, a tradition that predates even the Old Testament. In the OT, we see many folks getting ashes: Job, Mordecai, Daniel, Jonah, and many others got ashes. In each case, it was done in connection with “returning to the Lord.” In olden days, one would have ashes placed on his forehead after making his confession. It was a sign that he had returned to God.
That is what we do today, and all during Lent. We return to the Lord. Joel shares with us a wonderful description of Lent when he quotes God: “Return to me with all your heart.” That is what Lent is about.
Jesus gives us three ways of how we can make that return to God: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Pray, fast, give. When we do all of these things–and we should do one thing for each–our hearts are enlarged and they turn us back to God. Let’s think about each.
When we pray, our hearts get bigger. The more I pray for people I love, the more I seem to fall in love with them. This happens to me with out kids at school. Often I take the yearbook with me to the adoration chapel. I pray over each kid, and the more I do it, the more I am thankful for them and the more I love them. That is what I mean. Praying helps us love more and returns us to God.
When we fast, our heart get bigger. Who among us doesn’t have a person or two for whom we would do anything, for whom we would give up anything. If we love God, we ought to be willing to give up an awful lot for him. Look what he gave to us! I think we should fast big this Lent. The more we give up, the more we fall in love with the one for whom we are giving it up. Fasting helps us love more and returns us to God.
And when we give, our hearts get bigger. The more we give, the more we love. Parishioners sometimes tell me that the more they do to volunteer, the more they love this place and the more they love God. They give, and in giving they fall more in love. Their hearts get bigger. Giving, too, helps us love more and returns us to God.
This Lent, let’s let God enlarge our hearts and let’s turn back to him with all our hearts
Pope Francis says we should give up indifference for Lent–indifference to God. A heart enlarged by prayer, fasting and almsgiving simply cannot be indifferent.