I get quite a kick out of the Snickers commercials where someone is simply “not themselves” because they’re hungry, supposedly for a Snickers bar. Betty White, Roseanne Barr, Joe Pesci, and Robin Williams, among others have been featured in these ads.
Ash Wednesday is similar, insofar as it becomes a time to recognize we too are hungry, not for a Snickers bar, but for the deep and life giving relationship we treasure with Jesus.
Another story I think of for Lent is one where I was greeting a class of pre-school students on the first day of school. I met one boy, I will call him William, who got a little frustrated when later in the line of students there was another boy named William. “He is not!” said this little boy vehemently. “I am the real William.” I think of this every Ash Wednesday because it reminds me of the important questions for Christians.
Of course there is the question Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” But I also think if the question “Who am I?” What keeps me from being the real me? What do I become when I get hungry, not for a Snickers bar, but for Jesus?
What sin in my life keeps me from being real, the real person God created me to be. The gospel today reminds us that being real is not about show, pretense, or accolades. Rather, it is going to that “inner room” known only to us so that we can cut away the sin and desire that is opposed to God.
To that end, whatever we give up, or take in, should be done with the idea and purpose that I am heightening me desire for Jesus, and a more authentic relationship.
In the well known Velveteen Rabbit, the question of what is real remains constant throughout the book. What we learn is the love makes us real. Because Jesus has first loved us, we are real. God created us out if love, and in spite of our sinfulness, God continues to love us.
It may be, when we stand before God, the question of salvation may hinge on whether we are real, the persons God created us to be. So, do the three things of Lent: penance, alms giving, and fasting. In being attentive to these things during Lent, we will discover the ultimate “real” of becoming holy, and rising to a new better, and deeper relationship with Jesus.