A Time to Reflect on Ash
Lent, the season of repentance is the time to reflect seriously on the words used when the ashes stain our foreheads, namely, that we come from the dust of the earth and will go back there. All our worldly goods, power and attachments will be irredeemably gone. We shall be left with nothing but our true naked self, our soul, exposed to the scrutiny of God’s love, justice and mercy.
Catholics Take Lent Seriously
We Catholics are among the few in our times who take this penitential season seriously. Our busy world ignores such observances and their significance, as it does those of Holy Week, Easter and Christmas.
Consequently, we must keep in mind Our Lord’s solemn words: If you do not repent you all will all perish (Luke 13:3). We need to do penance for our sins, asking for forgiveness, as we say in the liturgy and in our daily prayers: Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.
Canon Law provides some guidance on how we can show that we sincerely want to make some amends for our misdeeds before God: prayer, works of charity, denying ourselves and faithfully observing the canonical disciplines of fasting and abstinence (c1249). All of these, it need hardly be stressed, should be done in a spirit of prayer and penance at some inconvenience to the routine of our daily habits.
Family prayer is not as common in Catholic homes as it used to be. If that cannot easily be remedied because of time and opportunity, the need for each of us to pray cannot be neglected. Parents and children should be encouraged to pray confidently to their patient Creator and Redeemer, without whom our faith is meaningless.
The poverty and disease we experience every day, should provide an obvious’stimulus to do the Christian thing and give whatever help we can. Many parishes make this easy for us by providing a quick means to relieve those in grave need, such as through the St Vincent de Paul Society and similar organisations. Mak-ing sacrifices in order to contribute to the Bishops Lenten Appeal can likewise be of spiritual benefit to the giver.
Step Out into Our Own Wilderness
From a deeply spiritual point of view, we should ponder Christ’s deprivation during the 40 days and 40 nights he spent alone in the wilderness. He was tempted to satisfy his hunger by transforming stones into bread, to challenge his Father’s providence and to embrace the best material things the world can offer. He staunchly resisted these comforting illusions. As a result he was left, a solitary figure in a hostile environment, intent on the one thing we must all think about during Lent: that this world and its allure will pass away. In the last analysis, we must step out into our own wilderness for a while, and think deeply about that.
Although we have to share and make use of the material things of this world in order to survive and grow, we must consider that our Saviour disdained them and told us to get ourselves purses that do not wear out, treasure in heaven that will not fail us and which no thief can reach (Lk 12:33).
We should be heartened by the thought that we are not on our own. Millions of others are likewise on the same Lenten path. With us, they are doing what they can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (Col 1:24).