Ash Wednesda (Gl 2,12-18; Sal 50; 2Cor 5,20-6,2; Mt 6,1-6.16-18)
Valdocco, February 26, 2020
Pascual Chávez V., sdb
Today we begin the Lenten journey, a time of grace because it leads us to the solemnity of Easter. "Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation".
The greatest feast needs in fact an intense preparation. The forty days, which clearly evoke those spent by Moses on Sinai, the forty years spent by the Jews in the desert, and the forty days that Christ spent in the desert before beginning his public ministry, appear as a period that characterizes man's preparation for an encounter with God.
All this highlights a persistent need: sufficient time is necessary for a true and profound conversion. In God's ways, the stages are not normally burnt down; conquests are not improvised; they are given, as graces, to those who seek them with difficulty, without giving up or despair. For us, this time coincides providentially with the unfolding of our General Chapter which, as such, tends towards greater dynamic, creative and daring fidelity to God, to Don Bosco and to the young.
The image of the journey, used in the opening prayer of the mass, indicates here a progressive commitment to penance and renewal that involves the whole Church and in it all of us. The liturgy guides us by vigorously presenting the central truths of the saving history. The objective is precise and concrete: to reach Christ in his mystery of death and resurrection, through a sincere effort of conversion to the Gospel. To put it in a liturgical formula: "to purify oneself from the corruption of the old man so as to become capable of holy newness", of the newness of God, of the newness of God for us today!
In the foreground of the Lenten scenario is the cross of Christ, the Lamb of God sacrificed for us. His image stands at the end of the Lenten journey, as Christ was waiting for one day at the end of his "Way of the Cross".
We need to look closely at the Crucified One: he is the Son of God who "humbles" himself in order to obey the Father and thus to save us. It is he who carries in his humanity the weight of every sin, the agony of every pain. But there is the source of all salvation. The passion that saves is only one: that of Jesus. The cross that saves is only one: the one that bears Christ. Yet each one is called to "complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions" (Col 1:24), planting the cross in the heart of our life, in the depths of our reality. In this, the essential thing is not the physical suffering; rather, it is the interior torment, as Joel says: " rend your hearts and not your clothing" (Joel 2:13).
But there is also on the Lenten milieu, the image of the ashes that we all receive to indicate, on the one hand, that we are only that "dust"; we, who feel so great and capable of anything, were created by God from dust and without God we would return to dust; on the other, that we are all penitents, in need of conversion. " you are dust, and to dust you shall return’’ (Genesis 3,19)
The invitation of Jesus, at the beginning of his public mission: "Convert and believe in the Gospel", which accompanies the rite of the imposition of ashes, is an appeal to an intimate and total interior change, a renewal of man in his whole self, of his feeling, of his judgement, of his life. This conversion implies a profound change that is above all oriented towards God in his Word, especially at this time of the General Chapter.
In this way we awaken our awareness of our condition as sinners, and of our need for penance and conversion: To God, to the Brothers, to the Co-workers, to the Youth. Lent is the time to look more closely at what we are and what we are called to be as Salesians. This implies a discernment of our values and a confrontation with the values we professed as followers of Christ in the footsteps of Don Bosco. It is, once again, his grace that anticipates our desire for conversion and sustains our commitment to full adherence to his saving will, to what He expects of us at this concrete moment in history. But let us not forget that God wishes and awaits our conversion which is not born or nourished by our will. It is He who wants our sanctification for the salvation of the young!
During this liturgical season, we are invited, in a special way, to contemplate Christ, and we do so with Don Bosco's gaze. Among us Salesians there is a firm conviction that, even if "the Gospel is one and the same for all", there exists "a Salesian reading of the Gospel, from which derives a Salesian way of living it". Don Bosco "looked to Christ to try to resemble him in the features of his face that corresponded most to his providential mission and to the spirit that must animate it"; in art. 11 of the Constitutions are listed, precisely, ‘reading the Gospel we become more aware of certain aspects of the figure of the lord’.
In his time, Don Bosco "did his Salesian reading; after him, in his direction, in his light, in a filial spirit, we must do today, for our present life, our Salesian reading of the Gospel". Knowing more deeply the Christ of the Gospel, in the way Don Bosco understood it, will strengthen our communion and give a guarantee of Salesianity to our mission. The personal experience of Christ, which Don Bosco lived, is the key to the Salesian interpretation of the Word of God; this means that Don Bosco's life and work are for us "a Word of God incarnate", a lived and charismatically normative reading of the Word of God.
And since during the Lent we will continue our General Chapter, we will listen to God while listening to the voice of the young people, their needs and aspirations, their silence and hopes, their shortcomings and their dreams; the young people are, in fact, "the other source of our evangelizing inspiration".
The Lenten journey can thus be seen in its deepest reality, as "a return to the roots of faith because, meditating on the incomparable gift of grace that is the Redemption, we cannot but imagine that everything is given to us by the loving divine initiative"; and also a return to the origins of our vocation and mission, also initiatives of God. "Here now is the favorable moment, ‘’Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation’’.
The Gospel of Matthew shows us in which direction to walk:
Fasting, as an expression of ascetical commitment. Every renunciation must be rooted in an inner attitude and translated into concrete gestures, to involve the whole man, soul and body. It is an asceticism that leads us to renounce ourselves to make room for others, to work on ourselves to extinguish all that is harmful germination of selfishness and change the character so as to make it amiable and capable of destroying the distances (physical, cultural and spiritual) between us and the young!
Prayer, as an expression of the rhythm of life, and that must become more intense and fervent in this favorable time. It must be a cry of the heart rather than a clamor of the lips. The liturgy insists that it be fervent, because nourished by love; humble, because it rises from a heart broken by repentance and invoking forgiveness; pressing and confident so that it does not get tired of imploring; nourished above all by the divine word. In short, a mysticism that leads us to draw on the loving kindness from which flows, that is, from the very heart of God!
Fraternal charity, as an expression of openness to others. What is taken away from the body and comfort by renunciation is given to the brothers. It is a commitment of solidarity in favor of others; it is a way of looking at one's neighbor as "one who belongs to me", as "a gift from God". It is the mission itself, which consists in being 'signs and bearers of God's love for the young', and in bringing them the good news: "Christ lives. He is our hope and the most beautiful youth in this world... He lives and wants you alive! Christ loves you, Christ saves you, Christ lives!"
Lent is - or should be - a time of joy, because the conversion to which it is directed is nothing more than the grace of reconciliation, of the encounter with God who is always ready to bless and benefit the man who expresses his desire for God by fasting, praying, doing good, both on a strictly individual level and within the community of chapter members.
Lent is - or should be - a season of celebration, because it offers us the opportunity to renew ourselves, to be freer and stronger in the fight against evil, in short, more available for what the Lord expects of us as Salesians for the youth of today, capable of giving children branches to heaven and roots within the earth!
Let us entrust these forty days of grace, lived in fasting, prayer and charity, to our Mother Help of Christians and ask her to accompany us and guide us to celebrate worthily the great mystery of Christ's Easter, the supreme revelation of the Father's gratuitous and merciful love by accepting his love and communicating it to others: Brothers, collaborators and young people!
I wish you all a fruitful Lenten journey!
 Il Progetto di vita dei Salesiani di Don Bosco, pag. 154.
 Il progetto di vita dei Salesiani di Don Bosco, pag. 154.
 J. Aubry, Lo Spirito Salesiano. Lineamenti (Roma 1974), pag. 53. Corsive personali.
 C. Bissoli, “La Linea Biblica nelle Costituzioni Salesiane”, in Aa. Vv., Contributi di Studio su Costituzioni e Regolamenti SDB. Vol 2 (Roma 1982), pag 292.
 Esortazione Apostolica Post-sinodale Christus vivit, Loreto, 25 marzo 2019, 1.130
 Ivi, 191