Ash Wednesday is a significant time on the calendar and in our spiritual lives in particular because it is the start of our movement toward the sacred Triduum—the three days that we remember the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus. As we get closer to Easter, we will hear and consider more about the Paschal Mystery that takes us deeper into our belief in Jesus’ Resurrection. Right now, it is time to think about and DO something about Lent in particular—the days before Easter.
Lent begins at the beginning. Sounds strange, right? But pondering the beginning, when God created everything out of nothing, reminds us about God’s creation of us. When the priest applies ashes on our foreheads, he says: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Some priests say: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”) The use of ashes and the reminder of our humble origins—namely “dust”—reminds us of what the Bible tells us about the story of how God made us—He fashioned us out of the dust of the earth. Our solidarity with the earth is a great stimulus for us to keep in mind the circle of life and the value of our unity with God’s creation.
Lent encourages us to be aware of all the gifts that God gives us in life.”
Lent, then, encourages us to be aware of all the gifts that God gives us in life. Of course, we must, first of all, be mindful of the gift of life—biological and spiritual. It is, then, incumbent upon us to consider all creation and evaluate those gifts that are of greater and lesser significance to us. When we take time to evaluate our lives and how we live them, we need to reflect—think seriously—about what we have and how we can be grateful and generous with our time, talent and treasure.
Lent is a six-week time of fasting, self-sacrifice and prayer. It is celebrated for 40 days, excluding the six Sundays, when fasting is traditionally not practiced. The time reminds us of the Old and New Testament fasts of Moses and Jesus. Moses atop Mount Sinai in preparation for the reception of the Ten Commandments and Our Blessed Lord who fasted 40 days and nights and was then tempted by the devil in the wilderness. The rigors and the depth of these biblical events shine forth for us as templates, as it were, of Faith and examples for us in drawing closer to God’s plan for us. The true message of God’s plan was revealed to Moses and to all creation in the Divine Law of the Ten Commandments; furthermore, God’s plan was made manifest in the triumph of Jesus over sin and death by the fulfillment of the law in the establishment of the New Covenant given in His body and blood.
We are the bearers of these divine truths and sharers of this profound grace that open us to the divine communication of God’s love for all creation and particularly for those whom He formed out of the dust of the earth.
Being signed with ashes at the beginning of Lent opens a very brief period of time to do good and avoid evil. St. Francis of Assisi, a great saint and son of the Church, reminds us in the rule that he wrote for the friars:
“Great things we have promised; greater have been promised to us. Let us observe the former and aspire to the latter. Pleasure is short; punishment, everlasting. Suffering is slight; glory, infinite … while we have time, let us do good.” (Gal 6:10) (Rule of 1223)
During the holy season of Lent, brothers and sisters, may we do penance and mortify our lives and relate to the things of heaven as best we can. I’ll see you at Sunday Mass!
Most Reverend William Patrick Callahan
is the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of La Crosse.