By Jennifer Beutz
Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is He. (Joel 2:12-13)
On Ash Wednesday, church attendance peaks. We see many people throughout our day with the mark of ashes on their foreheads, an outward sign of the desire to “turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1:15). Why are people drawn back to the Catholic Church at this time? It is not a holy day of obligation, nor is it a gathering time for families and friends. Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten season, is a solitary reminder of our death: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Receiving the ashes is an outward expression of sorrow for our sins. Lent is a time of fasting, prayer, and repentance, and the rise in attendance indicates that we humans are drawn to God when contemplating our impending death and when searching to cleanse our soul.
In today’s first reading, the Lord calls us to return to Him with our ‘whole hearts’, not just asking us to walk around with an outward sign of ashes, but to change ourselves most intimately at our core. He asks for us to rend our hearts, our most private interior, and when we do so He will show us his grace and mercy. In contemplating interior change, we discern what we can fast from or ‘give up’ for Lent to help us grow spiritually. What can we offer additionally in prayer to our Lord? How can we live a life of repentance, not just simply show an outward appearance but truly transform our hearts and our will?
God has given my family a unique set of circumstances this Lent. My husband has been battling cancer, and as part of his treatment we are asked to live near his medical center, away from our family, for weeks. In our cancer journey thus far, to find that this timing just happens to coincide with Lent does not come as a surprise. Instead of saying things happen “coincidentally”, I find myself thinking things happen “providentially”. We fully acknowledge that this is God’s timing and that none of it is chance. Being given the opportunity of denying ourselves the comforts of home and the joy of family will be a true sacrifice appropriate for the season. We will turn to Him with our whole hearts. There will be the outward appearance of living somewhere new, but more importantly we hope and pray for an interior transformation physically and spiritually. Without the distractions and consolations of our daily life, we will be more precisely focused on God, his mercy, and our desperate need for his grace. We would not have chosen this road, but we find that there is true blessing in this sacrifice. To deny ourselves the things we love for our own good, in the hope of obtaining physical health, is akin to our long-term goal of sacrificing spiritually for our eternal goal of heaven. No sacrifice is too great for purification and life everlasting.
I challenge you to meet this scripture this Lent not just in word but in deed. Give up the things that mean the most to you. Fast from the things that bring you the most joy. Not because they are bad for you, but because in separating yourself from the good things of this earth, you will create the space for God to come into your heart. He will not just brush your outer garment but will penetrate your soul. With true sacrifice comes the hope that through the suffering, transformation comes and things will never be the same again.
So…what will you be giving up for Lent this year?
About the Author:
Jennifer Beutz lives out her vocation in marriage to her husband of 17 years. They have been blessed with three amazing children. Jennifer works toward the mission of the New Evangelization as the small group coordinator at St. Hubert Catholic Community in Chanhassen, MN. She has been published in The Catholic Spirit and co-authored a weekly column in the Star Tribune with her mother, who is her writing mentor.