I’m glad we’re beginning Lent tonight, which may sound a bit odd to some. I admit that I need the sacrifice Lent offers to grow in my faith and, in truth, fix some habits that need fixing. Habits, of their very nature, can be difficult to break, so the tools of Lent are really important. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving—the three levers that get me moving in the right direction, these are welcome.
I hope you are here for the same reasons—to receive ashes on your forehead as a sign to the world (and to that person you will see later tonight in the mirror) that we are ready to grow in humility, in faith, and in our desire to share this faith with the world. And doesn’t our world NEED Good News right now! For two years we’ve been battling a world pandemic. Masks! Social distancing! People out of work! Almost a million deaths in the USA alone! Business closures! Soaring inflation! Strident political division. Global warming! A trumped up war against the Ukrainian people threatening the security of the entire world.
With so much turmoil in our lives, we need some good news. Ashes signify our determination not to be overwhelmed by evil, but to strive to be the best we can be by following Jesus. Adhering to the world and its values only makes things worse. You may recall from Scripture that God sent Jonah to warn the people of Nineveh to repent of their evil ways… and they did! The signs of their repentance…fasting, ashes on the head, and prayers of petition…and the Lord God spared them
We hear a similar petition tonight in Psalm 51…a wonderful prayer expressing the desire that God bring us back: “Be merciful, O God, for we have sinned.”
In just a few minutes, we will come up to have the sign of the Cross scribed with ashes onto our foreheads. We’ll hear, “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return” to remind us that our earthly life is short compared to the eternity that awaits us. Or we’ll hear, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”, a reminder that happiness in this life lies in following Jesus. Then, if we are able, we will receive the body of Christ in Holy Communion.
May we leave here tonight fortified for Lent, determined to reform those areas of our lives that need it. We are encouraged to pray daily as a way to strengthen our relationship with Jesus and others. We might commit to reading Scripture daily, saying the rosary, and remembering to thank God for all that we have. We can fast—go without something, be it food, drink, time on electronic gadgets, or avoiding exercise—and practice self-discipline. This Lenten season, may we strive to notice others in need and share what we can of our money, time, and talents, not judging whether others are “worthy” of our gifts, or not.
Perhaps you recall that Lent means springtime—the season for letting fresh air into our homes and dressing up our yards. This Lent is also an opportunity to spruce up our spiritual lives, and enjoy a fresh start. May our Lenten efforts to grow in grace and charity fill us with peace…and prepare us to celebrate the glory of Easter a short 42 days from now.