Lent begins today with the ancient custom of the imposition of ashes. It is a time of fasting and abstinence, a time of alms giving, and a time of prayer. Lent is, or should be, more than forty days of penance and self-chosen deprivation. It is also be a time of transformation and consecration.
The first reading from Joel puts today into context. He calls for a gathering and a fast in the setting of a liturgy. Blow the trumpets. Call an assembly. Gather the people. Everyone from the youngest to the oldest. And so we gather as a congregation to listen to the word of God. We gather to receive the ashes that both remind us that we will die and call us to undergo a conversion of heart so as to live more closely in accord the Gospel. We gather to receive the Sacred Body and Blood of Christ whose passion, death, and resurrection we will recall at the end of forty days.
Lent is not simply a season of give-ups: smoking, chocolate, desert, television, and so on. It should be a time of take-ons: time to meditate on the Gospel, time for spiritual reading, more time for prayer, or more frequent attendance at Mass.
It is a time to follow the advice of St. Jane de Chantal, foundress of the Visitation Order: “We cannot always offer God great things but at each instant we can offer little things with great love.” Offering little things with great love may be more difficult than giving up both chocolate and beer for the next forty days.
St. Clement, pope gave us a road map for Lent as found in the second reading in today's Office of Readings “we should be humble in mind, putting aside all arrogance, pride and foolish anger.” He reminds us, “Recall what the Lord Jesus said when he taught gentleness and patience. Be merciful, so that you may have mercy shown to you. Forgive, so that you may be forgiven. As you treat others, so you will be treated . . .” Lent is a time to challenge ourselves to be more fully what Jesus wants us to be. Lent is a time to seek to be more fully what we want to be but may not know how to become.
There are two formulae for the imposition of ashes. The first is a reminder of the reality of all life: "Remember, thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return."
The second is advice for Lent and every day of the year: "Turn away from sin
and be faithful to the Gospels."
As we begin the holy season of Lent we are called to meditate on one and act according to the other.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD