In the Gospel Reading for Ash Wednesday, taken from the very heart of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lays out the foundation for three fundamental practices we must undertake so that it will truly be a fruitful Lent and culminate in the overflowing peace and joy of the Paschal Mystery—the Passion, death and Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (Read and Meditate on Mt. 6:1-18)
If you like, as a special and helpful mental tool to remember the Words of Jesus, we offer a three-dimensional interpretation of these three specific fundamental Lenten practices which are prayer, penance (fasting), and almsgiving. Therefore, in prayer we go up to God; in the practice of penance (fasting) we go within ourselves; and finally, with respect to almsgiving we go out to others in works of charity. In sum, if we really want to live out a fruitful and efficacious Lent, then let’s do it: Go up! Go in! Go out!
Three Practices: Go Up, Go In, Go Out!
The possibilities in these three areas are countless. The Holy Spirit blows where He wills; inspirations from the Holy Spirit cannot be confined or limited to one specific idea or practice. For purpose of brevity, we would like to offer one practice each in this three-dimensional schema: Go up! Go in! Go out!
1. Go Up!
In this Holy Season of Lent let us Go Up in prayer to God our loving Father, Jesus our older Brother, and the Holy Spirit our Best Friend. Quite possibly you are scratching your head and wondering: Well, what prayer or prayers should I undertake to live most fully this Holy Season of Lent? The response is the following: Go Up by choosing to embrace and live out to the fullest extent possible the greatest of all prayers, which is The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Forty Days With Jesus, in Jesus, Loving Jesus
By making the decision to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass daily and participate fully, actively and consciously (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium), you will be with Jesus, listen to Jesus, receive Jesus, allow Jesus to love you and for your part love Jesus in return.
The Greatest of All Prayers
By far the most sublime, the greatest, the most exalted of all prayers while we have life on planet earth is to attend Mass and to live out the Mass with every fiber of our being, with all that we are and with all that we can offer or give to God. Why? For the one simple reason that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is truly Opus Dei—meaning it is the Work of God.
The Heart and Essence of Holy Mass?
The very heart and essence of Holy Mass is Jesus, the spotless Victim, who offers Himself to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit for the salvation of all humanity, and that includes you and me. Holy Mass is the reliving of the Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that first Good Friday. In every celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the fruits of Calvary are applied in super-abundance to all the world and to each of us individually.
Go to Mass and Receive the Eucharist
Therefore, if you want to live out the Season of Lent to the max then go to Holy Mass and receive Jesus in the Holy Eucharist with a lively faith, an ardent hope, and an all-consuming love. You will be transformed into what you have consumed; in the words of the great Apostle Saint Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Gal 2:20)
2. Go In!
Now enter into the very inner recesses of your heart: your soul, your inner self and dig deep! What should you dig for? Your sins!
The Prophet Isaiah exhorts us in these words: “Though your sins be as red as scarlet, I will make them as white as the snow.” (Is. 1:18) Why not dig deep, really deep into the inner recesses of your inner self—your heart, your soul, your conscience and extract all of your moral misery and give it to Jesus.
Indeed, Jesus is the Divine Physician who can heal any sickness, any ailment, any infirmity. He healed the blind, the lame, the mute, the paralytic, the lepers and even raised the dead and gave them new life. This same Jesus can heal me of my moral sickness and restore me to spiritual well-being if I have faith and trust in Him with total confidence in His Mercy, the greatest virtue in His Sacred Heart!
How? In What Way Do We Go in?
As Catholics, the most efficacious way to Go in is by means of having access to the Sacrament of Confession, Penance, Reconciliation! By confessing our sins to the priest, we are really confessing them to the Lord Jesus Christ who is our Divine Physician, our Healer, our Friend, our greatest Lover, and our Savior! Try to make the best Confession in your life—as if it were your first, your last, and your only Confession. Who knows, it could be.
Our death can come like a thief in the night, as in the recent tragic death of Kobe Bryant. In a word, prepare yourself in the best way possible. Then confess with an attitude of humility, transparency, and obedience. Confess all of your mortal sins, by species (kind) and number.
If done well, you will leave with your conscience totally at peace, your heart as pure and as white as the snow, and your life transformed by the Blood of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world! How consoling are the words of the priest after absolution: “My son/daughter, your sins are forgiven; go in peace!”
3. GO OUT!
This two-word imperative/command puts the icing on the cake of the three Lenten practices. By Go Out we mean the practice of alms-giving. The practice of almsgiving is not only giving money or food to the poor man living beneath the bridge on a cold winter night. This is just one interpretation of almsgiving. A more wide and expansive interpretation of almsgiving is the practice of charity, compassion, and loving service towards anyone.
Charity Begins at Home
We have all heard the saying: “Charity begins at home.” Although this proverb resounds as sweet and agreeable to the ears, it is very demanding within the context of the family. Why? In the context of the family, we are keenly aware of the glaring defects of all our family members. (By the way, this is a two-way street; they are keenly aware of our glaring defects as well!) It especially irks us to practice kindness, love, compassion, patience, forbearance and perseverance with those whose lives we share.
It is easy to be kind to, smile at, be jovial and upbeat with those we meet at work, at school, or even at the store. But once we are home, the angel in us is transformed into the devil. Saint Teresa of Avila once commented on the conduct of the Sisters/nuns in a convent in these or similar words: “You are angels outside the convent, but devils within.”
A Concrete Practice Within the Context of the Family to Go Out
Why not make this concrete proposal that is transformed into a concrete action in the context of the family! Every night before retiring, when you are saying your night prayers, propose for the following day to do at least one simple action to make some person in your family happy, to bring joy to that person. In that person, Jesus is really present in disguise!
Maybe a smile, a short prayer for them, a word of kindness, a word of encouragement, a small gift, a pat on the back, a service, a small sacrifice, a helping hand, an act of humility, a listening ear, a silent offering up of a suffering. These and many other simple gestures of charity, of almsgiving are the condiments that make the social life of the family a wonderful place to be, a wonderful place to live, a joyful atmosphere pleasing to God.
So, my friends, may this be the best of all Lents! Remember, GO UP in Prayer—Mass and Holy Communion. GO IN by digging out and ridding yourself of your moral trash by making a good Sacramental Confession. Finally, GO OUT to others—learn the meaning of “charity begins at home.” First love your family members, and then the world at large!