Joel 2: 12-18; 2Cor 5: 20–6:2; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
Happy Valentine’s Day! I think it’s somewhat appropriate that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day would fall on the same day since they both deal with the same thing, matters of the heart, matters of love. The Olympics are also in full-swing. I don’t know if you saw Shaun White perform last night but he ended up winning the gold. The guy is really a master at his sport in using that snowboard. After his score was posted he simply fell to the ground and crying. Even he couldn’t believe what had happened. In listening to him afterwards they were comparing his time at the last Olympics and he had commented that he had all the skills, the maneuvers, everything, during the last Olympics but he said what was different this time compared to then was that his heart was in it this time. It’s a matter of the heart and the wellness of that heart.
Most have been in that position and what it’s like when your heart is not into something. Whether you’re an athlete, a musician, an actor, teacher, or even this priest, if your heart is not in it things just don’t click. Michael Phelps made that comment before his final Olympics. It was said of the Eagles in this Super Bowl. It’s been said of people all the time. It’s a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of getting in touch with that heart in order to life our lives more fully. We know what it’s like when everything clicks and our heart is into something. It makes us feel alive.
It is the message that Jesus leaves with his disciples today on a portion of the tail end of the Beatitudes. He tries to redirect the disciples to a different model from that of the Pharisees who were more about having the right words, the right acts, the right maneuvers, like Shaun White had mentioned, but there was no openness to a change of heart. For that matter there’s no talk of a heart at all. The way of the Pharisees thought the way to God was to make things look good to others, to grab the attention of others through their shallow acts of prayer and fasting, as if the more gloomy they look and somehow in some fabricated way living in pain that they will capture the attention of God as well.
Quite honestly, any one of us can go and do that. Any one of us can go through the motions through life, and many do, but they never get in touch with that deeper part of themselves and live from the heart. The first reading challenges us today as we begin this season to come with our whole heart before the Lord. We’re not always good with doing that. Our lives become so preoccupied with getting the motions right and doing the right thing, the busyness of our lives, tasks, school work, sports, internet, that we never seem to have the time to simply slow ourselves down and get in touch with the very source of life within us, the place that nourishes, the place that allows us to live up to our fullest potential in life. Like Shaun White, our desire is to have all our cylinders running and we begin to embody that very love that we celebrate this day, Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day.
As we enter this season of Lent, together, because it is a journey we make as community, we come seeking that mindfulness of just how much and how easily we can become disconnected from our own hearts. Somehow like the Pharisees we begin to tell ourselves that as long as I go through the motions, say the right words, and at times, even do the right thing perfectly, if our hearts aren’t there and we’re not open to a changed heart through the experience we just won’t experience the fullness of life that God desires of us and seeks us out for in order to experience all things clicking in our own lives. It’s not only how our hearts are changed it in turn is how we change the world. It is a day of the heart and of love. It is a day that reminds us of a God that seeks out those hearts of ours in order to bring them back to life and to give us that life. It is a God who is stirred to concern for his people, each of us individually and as community to become the best version of ourselves. Return to me with your whole heart, Joel tells us in the first reading. First and foremost, we return to that source of life within us, our very hearts that are so easily neglected in our lives, coming second to so many other things. Yet, when our hearts aren’t in what we do we know what that is like. When our hearts aren’t in our relationship with loved ones, but most especially with God, it’s not much different. We pray for that grace, now, to return to the source of our lives, our hearts, so often in need of healing, attention, silence, space, and care of a God who loves and seeks us out in order to bring us to the fullness of life and to a place where everything clicks for us. Maybe it doesn’t bring us the gold medal but it allows us to share in that experience of the fullness of life that this God promises each of us this day.