As we leave the Church’s calendar of Ordinary Time and enter into this season of Lent, many of us will attend Mass, receiving ashes on our forehead. The ashes we receive come from the blessed palms we received last year on Palm Sunday. And it may come as a bitter truth to some, that even though we have been created in the image and likeness of God, like these burnt ashes, we are mere dust, on our own.
At the beginning of these forty days of Lent, the priest makes the smudge of a cross with the black ashes on our foreheads, while whispering the words, “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.” Which serves to remind the faithful that Lent is a time for conversion from sin… It is a reminder for us to turn our hearts to the Lord. This outward sign of a cross is not a means of showing the world how holy we are. Rather, it is a sign that we are willing to accept the reality that without God, we have no breath… That without God we have no life…
Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are alive because of Him … It is He Who breathes His Life into each us.… He gives our matter, our physical form, its eternal depth… From the moment of our conception we are formed from His hands… beyond then, even… “Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you,” ( Jeremiah 1:5) The ashes we receive on our foreheads remind us that it is because of God that we have life, and without Him, we have nothing… We are nothing.
Today is also a reminder to the Faithful, that even though we are made of dust… formed out of the sin of Adam, marked with the stain of our first parents… With Christ… With His blood.… we have been redeemed. Through no merit of our own, we have been saved. We are reminded that because of God’s goodness… God’s unfathomable Mercy…. we have been transformed. And now, with the promise of God’s salvation, we need to understand that there is more to us than our flesh and bones … Sure, our bodies shall return to dust when we die, because once they are empty, they belong to the earth…. but our souls…our souls… they belong to God!
As the first day of this period of Lent, Ash Wednesday is the perfect way to begin this healing of our souls. With these forty days the Church has given us guidelines… a perimeter of sorts… with fasting, penance, prayers and alms giving. These coming days before Easter should be marked with conversion. We need to put ourselves back on track. We need to use this time as a means of mending and repairing any damage we may have done by becoming comfortable with our sins. A sure way to remove this comfort is by fasting and doing penance. Throughout the centuries the saints have understood the importance of fasting and depriving themselves of physical satisfactions. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Fasting and abstinence strengthens our spirit as it mortifies our flesh and our sensuality. It raises our soul to God.”
This detachment from material goods, and this purposeful time of prayer, helps to purify us from our sins…Cleanse Us… When we remove these distractions…we are more apt to find God. And when we do, we are likely to find that perhaps there is no better proof of love… True Love… than a smudge of black ashes in a cross on our foreheads… a visible sign to the world, that yes, there is a God…Who came and died for us because He loves us very much. God bless my friends, let’s make it a good lent.