I admit this is one of my favorite juxtapositions of the year: we barely finish hearing Jesus say: ‘when you fast, wash your face and comb your hair,’ and the very next thing we do is put a smudge on your foreheads… I always chuckle when I think about it.
But then it causes me to think: why do we do such a thing? If it is so blatantly against what Jesus says to do, it must have a significance in the eyes of the Church, then, right? At least I hope so!
I think the answer comes from the start of our second reading for Mass today: ‘We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us.’
Our task as disciples of Christ is to also be an ambassador for Christ, to be His messenger to the world where He sends us, wherever that might be!
But in order to be that ambassador, the next line is vital: be reconciled to God! And this is why we begin this period of fasting and prayer prior to our celebration of Easter: it is all geared towards a greater reconciliation, a greater communion, a greater relationship with God.
Over the last year, however, we slide. We let in those little things that hamper that union: whether a small sin that becomes something more, whether that little creature comfort that makes us a little too secure, whether that little bit of trust in wealth instead of trusting in God. St. Paul echoes so many thoughts that we might have: I do the things I do not want to do, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!
And so we enter into this time of fasting and prayer, a time of almsgiving and renewal; a time to strip away all that hides Christ from those whom I encounter. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians in today’s reading: ‘now is the acceptable time, now is the time of salvation.’
As we enter into this great season, let us take advantage of the opportunity that God sets before us!