Rend your hearts
Patrick Novecosky explains that Lent is a time to give ourselves fully to Jesus . . .
I don’t know about you, but I never really understood why people in the Bible tore their clothes when they got upset. I mean, clothes are expensive. Clothes were made by hand 3,000 years ago, so dollar-for-denarius, they must have been even more expensive.
It’s true that Ezra, Job and others showed their extreme sorrow by tearing their shirts. Today we wear black and show grief pretty openly. Red eyes are a dead giveaway. Others in the Bible tore their clothing after becoming incredibly angry. In modern times, we might yell, grit our teeth or give meaningful hand gestures to indicate our displeasure. Incredible Hulk imitations are rather uncommon.
So why does God ask us in Ash Wednesday’s first reading to “rend our hearts” (Joel 2:13)? A torn heart sounds rather painful! God is not asking us to harm ourselves here, but in our brokenness to abandon ourselves completely to him. In the context of the reading — in which the Lord says “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning” — it’s clear that he is calling us to himself like a dad who wants to embrace his brokenhearted child.
Before I looked closely at salvation history — from Genesis to Revelation — I used to think that the God of the Old Testament was the stern old man in the sky who threw thunderbolts at his people when they went astray. Then after he sent his son, God changed into a kind-hearted father. But upon closer examination, it wasn’t God who changed at all. It was his people who had matured over the course of time. The Lord has always been “gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13).
We’ve had 2,000 years to examine and ponder the mysteries of God’s infinite love and mercy through Jesus Christ and his ultimate sacrifice for us. The Church provides us with rich teaching about the necessity of developing an intimate relationship with Jesus as the first step in knowing our faith. After all, our faith is not about books and knowledge. Our faith is about a person — Jesus.
Ash Wednesday’s second reading speaks directly to Legatus members: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor 5:20). Paul is urging us to rend our hearts, to abandon ourselves completely to Jesus, to give him all that we have and all that we are. Ultimately, that’s what the season of Lent is all about.
PATRICK NOVECOSKY is Legatus magazine’s editor-in-chief.