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“Rend your heart, not your garment …”

February 22, Ash Wednesday, Start of Lent
Joel 2:12-18; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day on which we begin Lent. We make it a point to wear an ash cross on our foreheads as sign of our repentance and willingness to do penance.

Today’s readings tell us that, our observance shall not end up being a pious external ritual, but symbolize the internal attitude. Prophet Joel expresses it powerfully, “Rend your heart, not your garment ….”

To rend one’s garment – tear it abruptly - was an ancient custom that signaled intense grief, repentance, or holy zeal. We have several examples in Old and New Testaments (2 Samuel 13:31, Matthew 26:65; Acts 14:14–15).

To “rend your heart” means to acknowledge sinfulness and need for God’s forgiveness and restoration, because the Lord “will not reject a broken and repentant heart” (Psalm 51:17).

Empty, hypocritical external rituals of ‘repentance and penance’ like wearing an ash cross or even skipping a meal mean nothing if the heart is unchanged. Jesus warns against all forms of show when one is praying or fasting or giving alms.

The true spirit of Lent is to ‘return to the Lord with whole heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning’ over the sins.

Prayer, Fasting and Giving constitute three ways to make the Lenten period meaningful, with or without missing meals.

Prayer is about connecting with God, repenting over sins, seeking God’s forgiveness, and receiving God’s mercy and love. It is about a true inner conversion of heart as we seek to follow Christ's will more faithfully.

Fasting means giving up something that is a regular part of life, as a reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice, for self-discipline or to reduce distractions. It could be meat, or dessert or a meal or Facebook or anything that matters to us so much daily.

Giving or charity refers to doing something good for others to respond to God’s grace, generosity, and love. It could be volunteering or donating money or goods to someone who is more needy.

For reflection:
Lent literally means, ‘spring,’ the season to sow seeds of good thoughts and actions. The time between birth and death determines our eternal destiny, because we are dust and we shall return to dust.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.