In ancient times, when someone was mourning or upset—when they were grieving or when they witnessed injustice, they would rip their clothes.  Sounds weird, but that’s what people did.  Why?  It was a way to warn everyone else that they were in mourning.  In some other ways, though, it was an act of exposing yourself to God—to let God do whatever God wants to do with you in this time of hardship.  We need to keep this in mind as we approach the text from Joel:

 Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing.

Return to the lord, your God.                  Joel 2:12-13

 The mark we receive this day—the mark of the cross—is a mark of our mortality.  Every blackened forehead now proclaims, “I will die and so will you.”  And that breaks our heart.  And it is supposed to.  Ash Wednesday is supposed to make us mourn, to look around the room and see that everyone here has been marked for death.  It is supposed to make us mourn when we feel the weight of the ashes upon our head for hours.  It is supposed to break out hearts, because sometimes…our heart needs to be broken.  It is meant to remind us, that we do not have unlimited time.  There are some things that need to be taken care of now because we do not know what the future holds. Every one of us is on borrowed time.  We begin our preparations for Easter with a reminder that we, like Christ, will die.  And what are we called to do?  Rend your hearts—tear your hearts and not your clothing.

 When she was only seven months old, a surgeon stopped my daughters heart.  She was born with a congenital heart defect that needed to be repaired, but you cannot operate on a functioning heart.  And so for three-hours, fifty-two minutes, my daughters heart did not beat and it had to be cut open.  The surgeon had to rend my daughters heart so that it could be repaired and function as God had intended.

 This wisdom appears in the Hebrew—thousands of ears before open-heart surgery could have been imagined.  The Hebrew word for rend, to tear,  is Param.  It shares the same root as the word Shalam, which means “to be completed, to reciprocate, to make amends, finish, fulfill, make good” and “peace that is perfect”.  Just as the surgeons had to rend Sylvia’s heart to repair it, so too must we rend our own hearts so that the master surgeon might repair our heart and soul! 

 Throughout Lent, many of us are good at “rending our clothing”—doing the outward things…giving up candy or caffeine or maybe swearing for lent.  But how many of us are good at rending our heart?    How many of us look for surgery of the soul, knowing that it might be painful, that it might be bloody and messy, but also knowing that we find new life on the other side?

 In order to rend our hearts, they need to be exposed.  We have to expose our hearts to God and one another in order to be reconciled in this time of Lent.  To reconcile is to fix, make good, repair, bring Shalam into our relationships.  Fixing relationships, Shalam,  is the ultimate goal of Easter and therefore should be the ultimate goal of Lent.  We must seek reconciliation with our classmates, our parents or siblings, our teachers and our friends.   Now is the time also to fix our relationships with those we have never met, but to whom we owe something.   Most of all, we must seek reconciliation with God. 

 Do you want your heart to be new?  Do you want the hearts of others to be new?  Do you struggle with the fact that you will die?  Do you find yourself caught up in fights with other people—students, teachers, family—that are never really resolved?  Do you carry guilt about something you have done to someone else and never spoken with them about it?  Do you feel resentment towards someone because of something that she or he did to you?  These are my few suggestions this Lent:

Rending our hearts usually comes with scars.

 Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Give up something for Lent that will help someone else—if you give up eating candy or soda or snacks, give the money you would have spent on food to the poor

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Confront your classmate/teacher /family member/brother or sister in Christ about the way you have been hurt.  Take a risk and expose your heart.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Ask forgiveness for something you’ve done or said that hurt someone else.  Don’t let it pass assuming the other was not hurt that bad.  Expose your heart and guilt and you will be free.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Weep, truly weep for those who lie dead in the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan—soldiers, citizens and insurgents.  Think about what their death really means and wait for the tears to fall before moving on to the next news story, the next chore, the next channel.  Those numbers are human lives for which we are all, in some way, responsible.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Weep also for the nameless and numberless many that die of hunger in a world that has more than enough food to eat.  When’s the last time your threw away food?  The numberless many are lives for which we are all responsible.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

And be moved from head to heart, shadow to substance, ritual to reality

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

As you give up something through Lent, take the time you would have spent eating or doing whatever it is that you’ve given up and spend it reading the scriptures.  Satisfy the hunger of your heart for the Word of God even as your stomach hungers.

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

And speak up.  Stand up for someone who is being picked on—eat lunch with someone who is less cool than you are—stop gossip in its tracks and don’t count the cost for yourself

Rend your heart and not your clothing

Spend the time with God that you keep putting off to another day.  Attend church, show up at mass, Eucharist or special worship services, come to prayer, come to devotion, come to Jesus, running—walking—dancing—singing in whatever way you can. 

Rend your hearts and not your clothing

Because God says that we cannot be healed, we cannot be whole, we cannot be what we are called to be unless we do so.  Until we let our hearts be broken by the things of God, we are still infants to the faith—I don’t care if you’re nine years old or ninety-five years old.  Until you’ve been broken for God, you cannot truly be new. 

Rend your heart and not your clothing.

Let us lay ourselves upon the operating table of the divine surgeon.  Following Jesus means following Him to the cross—a place of death and pain—so that we can find new life!