Ash Wednesday signals the beginning, in the Church, of a season of purification and renewal, and of a time during which God pours out his loving compassion and peace for all in need.
We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20)
As we begin this holy season of Lent, St. Paul’s blessed invitation can set the tone for our preparation of Easter. Paul’s appeal to be reconciled with God has echoed across the centuries. The ashes we receive at Mass this day—a sign of our repentance— date back sixteen hundred years, when sinners publicly expressed their sorrow for their sin. Why do we begin Lent with a spirit of repentance?
God our Father respects the freedom he has given us as his creatures. He asks, entreats, and invites us to draw near to him, rending our hearts, and not our garments (Joel 2:13), in true repentance and desire for reconciliation. He encourages us to have the attitude of the psalmist, acknowledging our sin and God’s justice, and bringing the acceptable sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:16-17).
How do we accomplish this? How do we respond to God’s invitation in an attitude of humble repentance? The truth is that God does not demand that we perform acts of piety merely to be seen by others. He doesn’t expect us to make ourselves holier. He knows that on our own, we can’t. Only God can enable us to say “yes” to him in our hearts. The Father made Jesus Christ, his sinless and perfect Son, “to be sin,” so that his redemption could penetrate into the darkest, most isolated part of our experience, so that we can become “the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Our lives can be filled with the holiness of God, raised above the limitations and impotence of a humanity darkened by sin. What a great and glorious gift our heavenly Father offers us, bringing new life and an ever-increasing desire for deeper fellowship with God!
Let us not receive this gift in vain, or let his invitation fall on deaf ears. The appeal that St. Paul made centuries ago resounds today. “Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Our human cooperation is necessary if the power of the gospel is to be effective in our own lives and in the church. May our Lenten practices, meant to demonstrate our response to God, succeed in disposing us toward humility and receptivity.
Points for Meditation
• Take up God’s invitation to “rend your heart” (Joel 2:13) this Lent by examining your conscience. Ask the Lord to show you areas of sin that are blocking his love. Celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation and rejoice in God’s mercy.
• Prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—the traditional practices of Lent—help us turn away from the things that so easily distract us. Pray about how you think the Lord wants you to take up these practices during Lent so that you can focus on him more intensely.
• Is there one area or pattern of sin in your life that continues to plague you? Ask the Lord to give you a victory in this area over the Lenten season.
Heavenly Father, with the freedom you have given us, we say “yes” to your invitation! We long to be fully reconciled to you and to participate in your holiness. Make each day of Lent be a new “day of salvation” for us, bringing us a deeper knowledge and experience of your life.
This is a selection from A Year of Celebration: Experiencing God through the Feast Days of the Church, ed. Patricia Mitchell (The Word Among Us Press, 2001).