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ashesI once heard a story about a person who missed going to church on Ash Wednesday. So distraught about what people who saw him without the “telltale” ashes on his forehead was he that he burned some parchment and used the ashes to make a sign of the cross on his forehead. Relieved, he went about his day “in peace”.

Jesus would definitely not approve. Today’s gospel (Mt 6:1-6, 16-18) is quite clear about how we ought to approach the Lenten season which begins today with Ash Wednesday, helping us to prepare for the death/resurrection of Jesus and the great feast of Easter. Jesus is clear that we are not to make a show of our Lenten practices. Go to your room,” he says, “and pray in secret.” Don’t go around flaunting your good deeds to get the praise of others, he adds. If you do, you already have your reward. (I love the image of a pompous person actually having someone walk before him blowing a trumpet as the rich man waves his money before dropping it in the basket. Think of how that would play in our town or churches…)

The message for this morning and this season is beautifully summed up, I think, in the very beginning of the first reading.

Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart…Rend your hearts, not your garments…”