Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles

Ash Wednesday
February 10, 2016
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana

“And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” Matthew 6:18

Pope Francis called the Church a field hospital.  This analogy presumes we are on a battlefield.   And I would agree with that.   Life for a believer very often makes us feel as though we were under siege, dodging bullets, taking cover, and returning fire when we can.  

As Pope Blessed Paul VI once said, even “the smoke of Satan has entered the Temple of God” (Homily for the Solemnity of St. Peter and St. Paul, 1972).   On any field of battle, we find smoke and dust, and through these Satan can obscure the truth and deceive us.  What are we to do?   Like good soldiers who, to paraphrase St. Paul, wish to fight the good fight (II Timothy 4:7), we must be disciplined and trained.  

To this end the field hospital of the Church gives us the fortification we need in Lent.   The Church performs triage, as it were.   Our Lord dispenses three prescriptions.  For those who are wounded, they are medicines to regain our strength for battle.  For those who are still fighting, they are the disciplines we need to continue the struggle.   They are almsgiving, prayer and fasting.   Each requires self-denial.

In giving alms we forget ourselves and give to another.   This laying aside of self is total, such that even our left hand does not know what our right is doing (Matthew 6:3).   In praying we are alone with God, fully exposed to Him, knowing that He sees all things and judges all things.   The word used is “secret” (Matthew 6:6).   This conversation is between God and us and no one else.   It is “secret” because it is honest, truthful, and without deceit.  And finally in fasting, we give up something that pleases us and expose ourselves entirely to God.   For this reason, we anoint our head and wash our face (Matthew 6:17), because, as with prayer and almsgiving, our fasting is between God and us.   There can be no pretending.   God already knows our every thought.   We cannot deceive God.  We face God truthfully so as not to deceive ourselves, for it is in deception that sin exists.   We cannot pretend to be a good soldier.   If we do, we will fall in battle.  The moment of truth is being under fire.   When attacked, we prove our substance before God.   We are either disciplined and capable or undisciplined and incapable.  

Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting are the necessary aids to assist in the struggle.   May God strengthen our resolve and fortify us with these three aids to our spiritual health.   On the field of battle, may they be our line of defense when attacked and our source of healing when wounded.