Before the wintertime changes into summer time in the place where I now live, signalling spring season, there has been also a change of the liturgical season on the Christian calendar. Last Wednesday rang in this change when people processed to churches to receive ashes on their foreheads signed with a cross. The priest used gentle words to remind all of the harsh human reality, “Remember man, thou art dust and unto dust thou shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel”.
During the forty days that this season lasts, the Christian faithful are encouraged to fast, to pray and to do charitable acts. These practices in turn are supposed to help give up the not so good habits and practices of one’s personality and to embrace things that are helpful to them spiritually and are pleasing to God too.
For us ordinary human beings it is difficult to understand the desires of our heart from which, for good or for bad, spring out our actions. Jesus taught, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person”. It is a way of explaining about the origin of evil. Contrariwise, good actions too pop out of one’s heart, provided the heart is oriented towards God and towards morally right actions.
It is in order to have a heart turned towards God that the Psalmist prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit”. These words can be prayed by all and sundry.
The Church recommends practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving as means towards cleansing of one’s life from some evil tendencies that might have crept into one’s life either stealthily or even consciously. While cleansing of the heart does require active efforts, the Lenten season invites us to find rest in God from a hectic life. Jesus’ invitation does offer such comfort when he says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Again, Lent is a time to surrender oneself to God completely, remembering always that “creating a new heart”, depends as much on God’s gratuitous grace as our own efforts to eventually arrive at that goal. Ultimately it is God’s mercy and love that can change our hard-heartedness to a new, loving heart....