Wednesday, 3/1/17 – Bridging the Body and Spirit

It’s Wednesday. Your alarm goes off 90 minutes earlier than normal. Struggling to wake up, you remember: You need that time for Mass.

Hours later, you absentmindedly touch your forehead. Grayness marks your fingertips. You remember your own mortality.

You continue about your daily tasks. You stomach rumbles – lightly, but enough so you can’t ignore it. You remember your sacrifice – a sacrifice echoed by Jesus for 40 days and nights.

Devout Catholics realize that the physical and spiritual are not two separate entities. It’s all but impossible to compartmentalize the needs and feelings of our souls from the sensations of our bodies . . . and it’s probably foolhardy to try.

All of today’s readings reflect on and inform Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. Today is the day when we perhaps most starkly merge the realms of body and soul in service of the larger idea of repentance.

The Gospel selection from Matthew touches on the importance of this co-mingling of our dualities. Jesus warns, “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.”

He notes, “When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you . . .”

He proclaims, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting.”

And more.

In other words, the purpose of the physical acts — fasting, giving alms, performing righteous deeds, even praying – is not solely the physical act itself; the spiritual aspect is more important.

Do the spiritual aspects of your life exist solely in a compartmentalized way? Do you drive to Church on Sunday, sit for your hour, and then resume what you consider to be your “real” life? Do you say grace before a meal as a mechanical rote, mumbling through the syllables? (Do you say grace before meals at all?)

Or do you allow the physical to connect with the spiritual? When you’re thinking of what to eat on Fridays, do you think, “We could have hamburgers for dinner tonight . . . Oh, wait. It’s Friday. Jesus sacrificed his flesh on Good Friday, so the least we can do is abstain from flesh in a similar way”? When you see and smell incense at Mass, do you just see it as smoke, or are you envisioning it as our prayers drifting up to heaven? If you make the sign of the cross with holy water when you go to Mass, what are you thinking as you do so? Are you reflecting on the goodness of your own baptism, or thinking to yourself, “Gotta find a seat in the pew; I hope the kids are still behind me. Did I remember the collection envelope”?

Of course, it’s all-but-impossible to completely wall off the demands of the physical world when connecting with the spiritual. If your children get lost at church before Mass, that’s a problem! But it may also be a problem if you have a hard time leaving the concerns of the physical world for a moment, even amid the most spiritual of surroundings.

No matter what stage you’re at along your journey, Ash Wednesday is the perfect place to reflect and begin anew. It’s a reminder that – regardless of anything else – our physical journeys all end in an identical way: in dust. And that physical journey is finite – barely over a century at most. Yet the fate of our spiritual lives is much more in question, on a timeline that extends to infinity.

Today, then, marks the perfect opportunity to renew – or begin anew – the connection between our bodies and souls. The ash on your forehead isn’t just a smudge of dirt waiting for your next shower; it’s a reminder of what’s at stake. The hunger you feel today isn’t just a physical one, but a spiritual one as your spirit longs to get closer to God. It’s the perfect season to remember the Lord in small ways and great.

Today’s Readings: Jl 2:12-18; Ps 51:3-4,5-6AB,12-13,14,17; 2 Cor 5:20—6:2; Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

About the Author

Despite being a professional writer and editor for over 15 years, Steven Marsh is more-or-less winging it when it comes to writing about matters of faith. Steven entered the church in 2005, and since then he's been involved with various ministries, including Pre-Cana marriage prep for engaged couples, religious education for kindergarteners, and Stephen Ministry's one-on-one caregiving. Steven lives in Indiana with his wife and son. Despite having read the entirety of the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, he's still surprised at elements he rediscovers or reflects upon in new ways. The more Steven learns about the faith, the less he feels he knows; he's keen to emphasize that any mistakes are his own.

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  1. Thank you! Your reflection has helped me to be more aware of the simple things we do ever so often take for granted.

  2. Thanks. This lent won’t Be the usual yearly routine with your help and by God’s grace !

  3. Thanks your comment has made me realize that I am dust and to dust i shall go and there is life after death. It has also taught me to pray more to reflect more on my faith through small things we do on a daily basis but more so I do them with love in mind that my Lord did all this for the love of human kind when the Israel were in the wilderness for 40 years Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days so its a journey to look forward to when i am sad I pray the rosary.

  4. thanks Steven, you have showed us what we always take for granted, may God help us to renew ourselves especially spiritually during this Lent period.
    a Blessed Lent period dia. GBU.

  5. Thanks a lot for your reflection it bears fruit to my young family here in Nigeria.

  6. Your words are an inspired blessing. Peace be with you & your family during this Lenten season. Please pray for me as well.

  7. I love this reflection! It was so refreshing to read all the aspects of the Lenten season the way all Catholics should interpret the physical indications, all which point to the spiritual realm. Thank you Steve.

  8. Hey Gabriel. The church mandates that on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday all people from 14 to 65 years old only consume 1 full meal during the day (from sun up to sun down). Meat is not allowed on these days or any Friday in Lent. Hope that helps.

  9. Lets get in touch with our spirit through fasting and prayers. I am impressed at how you simplified it .

  10. Thank you Steve for making me reflect on the daily activities that stand in my way especially during this season.

  11. This’ surely the most satisfying and refreshing spiritual message I’ve received this week. I want to dedicate more time to Bible reading and also reading spiritual literature during this Lenten period. This is the best beginning I’ve had and I pray to God that He gives me the grace to sustain me all through and thereafter. God Bless You Steven.

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