“In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.
I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:
“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws..” Daniel 9: 2-5
Tomorrow, we begin the Lenten season. Call me silly, but I’m actually looking forward to it! I see it as an opportunity to walk through the journey of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection with Him – to get to know and experience this part of His life – the Pascal Mystery – on a deeper level. Lent gives us a chance to develop virtue and to strengthen our will through the sacrifices we will make. If we approach lent actively instead of letting it just pass us by, we receive a golden opportunity to grow in holiness – to become better people – to become closer to Christ.
Once upon a time, I did not see the need for receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. After all, it is not a holy day of obligation. I thought, “Why would someone want to walk around in public with a black cross smeared on their forehead?” I also thought that people might think of me as the Jews once thought of the Pharisees – “Look at that Catholic. She thinks she is so much better that us, because she went to church today and is flaunting her ashes by wearing them in public!” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to take part in that. I didn’t understand the tradition.
Ash Wednesday is a day to kick off lent the right way. Through fasting and abstaining on this day, we discipline our human will weakened by original sin. We use that sacrifice as a prayer for the conversion of our souls, the souls in our families, and in the whole world. Receiving ashes is an act of humility – a reminder that from dust we came and to dust we will return. This moment is really all that we have. We do not know the day of our death. At the end of this life, whenever that may be, we will face our Maker. I do not want to have to look into His beautiful eyes, and be filled with remorse for the things I failed to do, especially in regard to His command to love God and my fellow-man. I want Him to feel loved when at last, I gaze into His eyes.
Humility is necessary for holiness to grow. Mark’s gospel says, ” For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) It is He who we must seek to emulate. One way to do this is to offer all that you have and all that you are to God upon rising each day. Ask Him to use you in whatever way He sees fit to bring others to Him. It might sound like a scary prospect, but He can ALWAYS be trusted. Whatever He asks of you, He will certainly provide the graces necessary for you to fulfill His Will. It is in doing so that true peace settles upon a restless soul.
Tomorrow will be a solemn day, setting the tone for traveling that road to Calvary with Christ. As Christians, though, we can take this journey with joy in our hearts, because we know that the battle is already won. At Easter, we will celebrate Christ’s glorious resurrection and our redemption! Now that is something to be grateful for!