Saint Anselm of Canterbury was a Benedictian monk and one of the most highly regarded theologians and philosophers of the Church. He was also appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, the office he held until his death in 1109. He was very influential in defending the interest of the Church to the point it got him exiled twice, once by King William II and once by King Henry I.
One of his most famous works was “Cur Deus Homo” or in English “Why God became Man.” In this book he writes “Since the offense of sin belongs to the human race, a human being had to be involved in the payment, but since the offense to the honor of God is infinite, only God could adequately pay it.”
Lent is the forty-day liturgical season of fasting, special prayer and almsgiving in preparation for Easter. The name “Lent” is from the Middle English “Lencten,” meaning spring; its more primitive ecclesiastical name was the “forty days,” “quadragesima” in Latin or “tessaracoste” in Greek. The number “forty” is first noted in the Canons of Nicaea (A.D. 325), likely in imitation of Jesus’ fast in the desert before His public ministry (with Old Testament precedent in Moses and Elijah). By the fourth century, in most of the West, it referred to six days’ fast per week of six weeks (Sundays were excluded).We prepare ourselves to encounter the risen Lord who came just as Anselm says to pay the price that we couldn’t pay.
Today’s Gospel from Saint Matthew, Jesus touches upon the three cornerstones of Lent: Almsgiving, Prayer, and Fasting. We see Jesus say three times “And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” Lent is your journey to grow closer to God, to fix and strengthen your relationship with Him.
Today we mark the beginning of our journey with ashes. Ashes represent our penance, asking God to forgive us sinners. Ashes are a sign of physical death, as in ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ We began as dust (a joyless and lifeless existence), and our bodies will return to dust until we are raised up by Christ. By receiving ashes and keeping them on, we publicly proclaim our intent to die to our worldly desires and live even more in Christ’s image, which we focus on during the season of ‘rebirth’ that is Lent (a Latin term for ‘Spring’).
So as we struggle with the thought of having to give up alcohol or oreos or TV time, remember your efforts are not in vain, for there is much more to come when we encounter our eternal reward in heaven with God the father.