My boss sent me a video to watch before I headed out on vacation last week. The talk focused on the idea that we as a nation are in a "red dot" moment. You know the red dot on the mall map that says "YOU ARE HERE." The speaker's message was simple; you can only start from where you are.
Today we begin the liturgical season of Lent. Today, we mark our heads with ashes, and we fast together as a community of believers. The grumble in your tummy from not eating as you usually would, should remind us that we are beginning something new. We are changing our focus. We are called to a time of repentance through prayer and fasting.
On Ash Wednesday, we do this penance and fasting together. Tomorrow, you will have your red dot moment. Tomorrow, you will begin a time of private fasting, penance, and almsgiving. (Mt 6: 1-6, 16-18)
Why do I call it a red dot moment? Because we each have to stop and figure out where we are and where we want to go. Don't go searching internet lists of things to give up! Go searching in your heart for the things you are attached to. Fasting isn't about giving up Diet Cokes because they are bad for you; you should stop drinking those for other reasons. Fasting should strip us of some bodily pleasure. Giving alms should hurt our pocketbook. It should deprive us of some possession that we desire. Prayer should redirect our hearts from self love as we grow in humility and love for others. This is a disciple of Christ: one who is not attached to the pleasures of the body, of the shiny objects of this world, or the pride of self but instead cares for those in need and puts others above himself.
What you decide to "do" for Lent is about where you are and where you want to go. It is not about doing something so strict to show how much you love Jesus. I'm going to challenge you to do something this Lent that a priest encouraged me to begin doing 20+ years ago. (Occasionally, I break the tradition for good reasons.) Don't tell anyone. Whatever you decide to fast from, whatever prayer you add, whatever extra money you give, don't tell anyone. Keep it secret. "And your Father who sees in secret will repay you." (Mt 6:4, 6, 18)