Ash Wednesday is upon us once again. Easter is late this year ~ Sunday April 17th.
So, you may ask ~ what are ashes all about?
We Catholics like symbols. (So does Harry Potter.)
What can they tell us about life? And death? And reality?
When the priest smears ashes on the penitent’s forehead he says one of two poignant phrases:
REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN,
or REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.
So, it’s a sign of humility, a sign that we are part of the earth, that we are dust.
Are we to reflect and ask ~ Are we just dust?
Have made an ash-heap of our life?
Are we sitting in an ash-heap?
Is there nothing but ruin, smoldering embers around us?
If so, do we despair?
Or can we dream of re-building?
Whether or not, the answers to these questions apply to us literally, it is important to humble ourselves before our God.
That’s what the ashes signify. And Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence from meat to remind us that we should begin this penitential season well.
Here’s an article that explains the theological significance of the season of Lent.
Consisting of forty days, in commemoration of the time the Lord Jesus spent in the desert before starting his public ministry, Lent is a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in which we believers prepare ourselves for the joyful celebration of the Paschal Mystery.
While the phrase “paschal mystery” is fundamentally Christian and should be a term readily known by every Christian disciple, most believers are unaware of its meaning and miss its significance.
With this observation in mind, let’s ask: What is the Paschal Mystery?Why does it require a penitential season to prepare for its celebration?
The Paschal Mystery is nothing more or less than the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the fulfillment of ancient prophecies, the purpose of his messianic mission in destroying sin and death, and the unfolding expression of his immense love for us. The Paschal Mystery is the source of our belief in eternal life and the foundation of the hope we have of dwelling forever in heaven.
Anyone who claims the title of “Christian,” therefore, must realize what the Paschal Mystery is and what its role is in our desire for redemption.
It is for this reason that we believers need Lent. The mystery of the Lord’s Passion, Death, and Resurrection requires constant reflection and re-living in the lives of believers in order for the mystery to be fully assimilated in our hearts and appreciated in our everyday lives. With the pace of life and the multiple distractions presented by our world, it’s too easy for a Christian to miss the mystery. And so, Lent comes and commands a pause. It orders us – through various penances, some universal to all believers, while others of a more personal choosing – to slow down and see the mystery, feel the love, and desire heaven above all things.
And so, Lent is not a season about self-help or self-improvement for our own sake. It’s not just about giving up caffeine or chocolate (although these could be good penances) or about eating right or being more punctual (although it could be good to improve these habits). No, above all these things, Lent is about the believer deepening in her knowledge and experience of the Suffering, Crucified, and Resurrected God who loves her and seeks to be with her. It’s about grasping – and being grasped by – the radical and self-emptying love of Jesus Christ.
A good Lent, therefore, is reflected in a devout and attentive celebration of Holy Week and Easter. The rejoicing that’s a part of these holiest days should not occur because the believer sees it as a reprieve from a dislikable and contested time of penance but because the believer has been purified even more from darkness and is able to more profoundly understand and share in the Lord’s Paschal Mystery.
The purpose of Lent, therefore, is a microcosm of the life and worldview of the Christian believer. Knowing ourselves to be the sons and daughters of the Resurrection, everything we think, feel, and do is placed in the light and hope of eternity. This gives the disciple of Jesus Christ the strength to forgive an enemy, control their sexual passions, suffer patiently, and selflessly serve others. When the Resurrection is lived and heaven is seen as a real possibility for the righteous, then everything is worth it and everything becomes ordered to it.
It doesn’t do a Catholic much good who show up on Ash Wednesday, get a smudge of ashes on their forehead without the slightest intention of doing what they symbolize: CHANGE.
And so, dear friend, don’t just give up something for Lent. Get at the root of your life where you need to look at the real stuff.
I invite you to go deeper into the practice of your faith.
Make the sign Mean Something!
Let it transform you from inside out.
The question is: Do we ~ you and I ~ have the COURAGE TO CHANGE?
So, let’s do Lent well ~ together.
During Lent, be ready to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Find out who this Jesus is ~ for you.
And what wisdom he has to offer us that will help us to change and enrich our lives for the better.
Whether you are Catholic or not, perhaps you will find some wisdom,
some meaning for your life in these pages. Join us as we walk the journey together
as Jesus did ~ through suffering to death to new and risen life these six weeks of Lent 2019.
God of pardon and of love,
Mercy past all measure,
You alone can grant us peace,
You, our holy treasure.
Now before you go, here’s a short hymn about an offering of ashes. Click here.
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.