Lectionary Reflection: Ash Wednesday, Year A, B, C (2021)

Lectionary Readings: Jl 2:12-18 / Ps 51 / 2Cor 5:20-6:2 / Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

We once again reach the liturgy of Ash Wednesday again this February 17, 2021. Despite the modifications to the Ash Wednesday distribution of the ashes this year due to the ongoing pandemic throughout the world, the Lectionary readings of Ash Wednesday is not changing. If you pay close attention to the readings, they remain the same every year. Yet, we must not let these Lectionary readings be repeated as if it were a broken record. Like any other Biblical readings, we must find a sense of renewed mission from these readings.

“La felicità è lo sguardo rivolto verso Dio. La tristezza è lo sguardo rivolto verso se stessi – Happiness is looking towards God. Sadness is looking towards oneself.” These are words from the newly beatified, and young Bl. Carlo Acutis. For the past months, I have been reading much about Bl. Carlo because I am very much attracted to Eucharistically-centred spirituality that influenced much of his life and my reflections will allude to many of Bl. Carlo’s quotes.

I invite take a read of this quote again, “Happiness is looking towards God. Sadness is looking towards oneself.” When reading this quote in light of Matthew 6 of today’s Gospel on the three pillars of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving, is Jesus not reminding us to gear these acts towards God rather than oneself? During my years in elementary school and even into secondary school, I always smile at the question, “What are you giving up for Lent this year?” I smile not because it is a bad question, but because how fussed up people get about giving up chocolate, video games, etc. This rhetoric of “giving up” something for Lent has become all too familiar for many. Do not get me wrong though, I am not condemning those who give up something for Lent, but I want to invite you to see this act of “giving up something for Lent” with something a little deeper.

The act of giving up of something we like is self-mortification, not to the extreme like some saints we may read of who self-flagellate themselves or sleep on rocks… maybe we are not up to that level yet. We give up something to share in the passion of Our Lord, Jesus Christ who suffered for us. That is why we observe fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and in many diocese throughout the world, still maintain the praiseworthy act of abstinence from meat on Fridays during Lent and for some, even on other Fridays throughout the year. However, today’s Gospel reminds us to examine our attitudes when we partake in these pious acts. Do we do it out of self-glorification? Do I give up something for Lent just because someone else is doing it? Do we do it so others can see that I am Catholic? These attitudes towards prayer, fasting and almsgiving are not the appropriate attitudes. As we grow older and mature in faith, we should come to the realization that these acts help us fix our gaze on God, and God alone, and less of the self.

These acts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving seem contrary to the society that we live in where the media that we consume constantly focus on the perfect body image, to indulge on as much as we want, to own the best home or car. Yet, these things that society strives to sell us are all materialistic things and lead to vanity (see Ecclesiastes 1:2-11). These things only offer us some temporary sense of happiness, a happiness of this world. That is why we have ashes imposed on our heads every year at the beginning of Lent, to remind us of what really matters. The materialism that society sells us honestly does not matter. At the end of the day, those things that we own, and even our earthly flesh will go back to the dust (see Genesis 3:19). We pray, fast and give alms during Lent so to become more like Jesus. What we gain from being more like Jesus might not be the happiness that the world perceives to be ideal, but instead a happiness that will last forever, a happiness that can be found in God alone.

…man is able to attain the state of perfect happiness, but since this happiness is not to be found in this life, it must be found in the life to come; otherwise man’s natural desire for beatitude would be fruitless and in vain.

The Quest for Happiness – Venerable Louis of Granada (Tan Books 2020), pg. 5

Therefore, as we live out the pillars of Lent this year, let us not forget to instil in us a genuine pious attitude, a mindset fixed on God, and God alone because in doing so, we will be on the quest to “be armed with weapons of self-restraint,” (Ash Wednesday Collect) and thus in forty-days plus six Sundays from today, we will be able to experience the full joy of Easter in anticipation of an eternal happiness – the Easter with Jesus in His Heavenly Kingdom on the Last Day.


About Vincent Pham

Vincent is a humanities student of the University of Toronto’s Trinity College of the Faculty of Arts and Science. He hopes to pursue a double major in Ethics, Law and Society, and Philosophy.
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