I’m about 3.5 months behind in listening to the daily podcasts of the “Calling All Catholics” radio show on The Station of the Cross (101.7 FM, in Buffalo, NY) so please excuse me for the untimeliness of the subject matter.
This morning, I was listening to the 02/10/16 podcast featuring Catholic priest, Peter Calabrese. February 10th, Ash Wednesday, was the first day of Lent for Catholics this year and there was some discussion on the program about Lenten fasting and what to “give up” for the season.
Lent always begins on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation so Catholics are only encouraged to attend mass that day and receive ashes, but they are not required to do so. However, Catholics are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday. For Catholics, eating meat on Ash Wednesday is a “mortal” sin and will doom them to hell if they don’t confess the sin to a priest. Catholics are also obligated to fast on Ash Wednesday, which the church defines as “eating one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.”
On Ash Wednesday, faithful Catholics line up during mass and the priest makes the sign of the cross on their foreheads with ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday palm fronds. The ashes symbolize “mourning and penance” for sin and also mark the receiver as “belonging to Christ.” Catholics usually keep the ashes on their forehead for the remainder of the day for all others to see. As a Catholic youngster, my parochial schoolmates and I were very proud of our ashes and we were scandalized whenever we a saw someone that day who we knew to be a Catholic without ashes.
Yet the Bible says something very different about fasting and our relationship with God:
“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:1
“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” – Matthew 6:16-18
Walking around in public all day with ashes as a sign of fasting and penance doesn’t agree with God’s Word.
However, no amount of fasting and religious ritual can make us right with a Holy God. We break God’s laws every day in thought, word, deed, or by omission. But God the Son, Jesus Christ, came to Earth, lived a perfect life, and died for your sins. He paid the penalty that you owe. But He rose from the grave, defeating sin and death, and He offers you the gift of eternal salvation and fellowship with God if you’ll only repent of your sins and accept Him as your Savior. What are you waiting for?
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” – Ephesians 1:7