S. Matth. 6. 16AND Jesus spake unto his disciples, saying, When ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face, that thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Alexis Tancibok, in his reflection on Clean Monday, roughly the Byzantine equivalent of Ash Wednesday, states that:
Asceticism is not about suffering. Rather it is about peeling away the cares, worries, resentments, desires and emotions that “weigh” us down, make us sluggish to respond to grace, and the calling of God in our life. . . . During Lent, we each in our own way, take this opportunity to dig a little deeper, to be that little bit more aware of the process of peeling away those distractions that anchor us to points of suffering; in so doing, we prepare to enter the Great Feast open, un-burdened, and free, ready to receive all that the grace of the Resurrection has to offer.
That is what today's gospel is trying to teach us. We begin Lent with the ashes -- symbols of our own mortality, and the corruption that our sin has brought into the world -- -- the death of our inner life, the spiritual death of those we victimize, the death of relationships. Through the fast of Lent, we continue the washing of our face and anointing of our heads that began in baptism and confirmation, with the faith and hope that our reborn, regenerated selves may shine through more and more -- in that resurrection that happens in this life, a foretaste of the great resurrection that will happen at the end of time.
I pray that all of you may have a holy Lent, in which your faith is deepened.