Our faith is a rescue mission, Christianity is a repair shop for the heart and Lent is the vehicle that can bring about deep renewal.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season and it is one of the busiest days for Catholic parishes across the globe. Cultural Catholics who do not normally attend Sunday Mass or practice their faith will be flooding the doors of churches seeking ashes. Even the mainstream media knows that today is different. You might even see someone on television with ashes on their foreheads.
Lent has an appeal to it for many reasons. Lent is kind of radical; it reminds Catholics that Jesus demands everything of his followers. So, people decide to give up their favorite foods or pray more during this time so they can renew their faith.
My consistent struggle with Lent is not making this time about a checklist. Faith is not a “To Do List” but I too often make it one. I quickly decide what I will give up for the next 40 days (usually the same desserts as the last few years), but I do not spend enough time reflecting on how I will radically reorient my life towards following Jesus Christ as a real person who is constantly pursuing my heart.
The entire goal of the Lenten season is for us to become true disciples of Christ. On Ash Wednesday, we are essentially given an invitation: “Follow me,” Jesus says to us. Just like he said to the ordinary men and women he found in Galilee. Over the next 40 days we can come and see what Jesus is about. If you are like me, keeping him at the center is the struggle.
Lent can be tricky because it is not about being strong enough to sacrifice some luxuries in our lives and do a little extra for God. Lent is concerned with falling deeper in love with the God of the universe who created me and gave his life so that I may know what it means to be truly alive.
The “stuff” we commit to doing or the things we decide to give up this Lent can definitely lead us closer to Him. However, my inclination is to often equate these practices with my relationship with God, rather than speaking directly to Him in prayer.
Lent is meant to make us fully alive again. Pope Benedict XVI would often note that the earliest Christians referred to themselves as “The Living Ones” because they were the only members of society who were fully alive. The culture of Rome was bent towards indulgence, violence and lifeless philosophies. Christianity offered something more, but it entailed something challenging. Anything in life that brings about true and fruitful change will always be difficult. Renewal, however, is always worth it.
Anything in life that brings about true and fruitful change will always be difficult. Renewal, however, is always worth it.
Diving into Lent with our entire self can give us access to this type of life as well. Essentially, we can all admit that our lives are often lived astray from who God is calling us to be. For this reason, we begin with the practice of having ashes placed on our foreheads. “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is not morbid sentimentality, but an invitation to contemplate our deathbed. Doing so is what will bring about the greatest renewal in our lives.
When we live with our number one purpose in mind (God and being with Him) along with an awareness that one day we will pass from this earth (a dust and deathbed mentality), we simply live differently. We do not procrastinate when it comes to the most meaningful relationships in our lives and we are pushed to forgive and bring about healing rather than lock ourselves into the way things have always been.
Today, let us allow the ashes to do something to us. May they powerfully remind us that we are made for renewal and the Lent brings us face-to-face with our own brokenness and death. That death, however, has been definitively restored by what happens at the end of these 40 days – we will rise, triumphantly renewed and prepared to live with Christ forever.