Preparing for Ash Wednesday

Scripture readings for March 5

This is a common experience for me: about the Sunday or Monday before, I notice Ash Wednesday on the calendar and think, “What should I do this Lent?” I will think over some options for prayer, exercise, fasting, and maybe some almsgiving. I will write up a little plan and hopefully have it in place by the time I go to bed on Ash Wednesday. Perhaps this is a common experience for many people.

Sacred HeartThe mistake I make, however, is asking the wrong fundamental question. The right question is, “What does God want from me this Lent?” The King of Kings and Lord of Lords is not measuring my weight loss this Lent nor my consumption of sweet tea. He is looking deeper. Speaking through the prophet Joel he says, “Even now says the Lord return to me with your whole heart…rend your heart, not your garments.” Wow, my whole heart. That is what the Lord is after this Lent – a tall order to be sure!

Thanks be to God we serve a patient God. He knows there are a lot of rocks and weeds in my garden so he doesn’t expect this conversion will be complete by the third Sunday of Lent or even by Holy Week. But he does expect that I start this journey and do my best over these 40 days.

How can I give the Lord my whole heart? That is where my prayer will take me this Lent. Are there things or people in my life that are serving as an obstacle to this demand? What type of selfishness and self-rule orders my day to prevent me from giving my heart totally? Perhaps more under the radar, what types of daily habits, routines and inclinations, while not sinful in themselves, are preventing me from seeking the perfect will of the Father?

This Lent let us go to that “inner room” that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel (Mark 6), and “close the door and pray to your Father in secret.” Only when we do that can we make our Lenten commitments. Jesus is after is your whole heart. Take some time this week to listen and take some time to commit. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time. Behold, now is the day of salvation.” Now is Ash Wednesday.

Fr. Tim McKeown is a priest of the Diocese of Savannah and currently serves as Vice Rector for Seminary Life at the Pontifical North American College in Rome