Psalm 51:3–4, 5–6, 12–13, 17;
2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2;
Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18
“Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”
These are the words most often used as we are signed with ashes. It is a call to conversion, a call to follow Christ, a call to change our lives. Today’s reading from the Gospel of Matthew gives us the three pillars of Lent—prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These are at the heart of the Gospel’s message. No one heard this call and followed it more devotedly than St. Francis of Assisi.
But when on a certain day the Gospel was read in [the church of the Portiuncula] how the Lord sent his disciples out to preach, the holy man of God, assisting there, understood somewhat the words of the Gospel; after Mass he humbly asked the priest to explain the Gospel to him more fully. When he had set forth for him in order all these things, the holy Francis, hearing that the disciples of Christ should not possess gold or silver or money; nor carry along the way scrip, or wallet, or bread, or a staff; that they should not have shoes, or two tunics; but that they should preach the kingdom of God and penance, immediately cried out exultingly: “This is what I wish, this is what I seek, this is what I long to do with all my heart.”
Francis took a literal approach to the Gospel. He began with the most basic interpretation of a text, but he didn’t stop there. He began by throwing aside his tunic, shoes, and walking staff, but over time discovered the many ways in which possessions can keep us from seeking God. He began by carrying stones and fitting them into the crumbling walls of Assisi’s churches, but over time he inspired his followers to reinvigorate the Church with the undimmed power of the Gospel.
Most High, Glorious God,
bring light to the darkness of my heart,
give me right faith, certain hope, and perfect charity.
Lord, give me insight and wisdom
so I might always discern
your holy and true will.