Direction. Where are you going? What are you doing? What do you want to do with your life? You may not remember these lyrics from Twisted Sister’s song, “We’re not gonna take it”, but I think they provide an interesting thought at the start of Lent. What is it that you want your life to be about? What do you want to become? What are you hoping for in life?
The readings today for Ash Wednesday help us to understand the path to happiness. The path to happiness is one done first between God and oneself first. We cannot be concerned about what others think. Do not appear to be fasting. Go to your room and pray in silence. Be generous without seeking approval from others. Why is there such emphasis in today’s gospel about silence and solitude? Because it is so easy to allow ourselves to seek happiness in a way that depends on what others think about what we do.
It is easier to ignore others if we are surrounded by people we like who do the same. It is easier to join the “rat race” to wealth when we are in a culture that values such pursuits. It is easier to seek illicit pleasures like pornography when we are behind the safety of a computer screen, convincing ourselves that “everyone does this” and that since I am behind a screen and not with someone else it does not harm anyone. It is easy to cast aside other people as “other” when I do not know immigrants, or refugees, or Muslims, or Democrats or Republicans, or blacks, or whites or Hispanics. It is easier to avoid confronting myself if I keep myself so busy I never have to embrace silence in a noisy world.
The first reading also provides us with the guidance about the purpose of Lent too. Lent is first about an invitation. The prophet Joel says, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning.” Why should we do this? For God is “gracious and merciful . . . slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.” Regardless of what choices we have made in life, there can be forgiveness from God for the repentant heart. We can heal brokenness we have caused. We can heal actions that have used others.
But do not wait. As Saint Paul reminds us, salvation is offered today. “Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation.”