Today we begin the holy season of Lent, a time of preparation for the celebration of Easter through penance, prayer and works of charity.
The ashes in today’s ceremony are produced by burning the branches left from last year’s Palm Sunday. The palms which had been the symbol of the triumphant kingship of Christ have been transformed into ashes which are the sign of humility, even of death.
The Christian life is the other way around. Ashes are turned into palm branches. In the paschal mystery sorrow is changed into joy, humiliation is lifted up to glory, and death is overcome by life.
Today, at the inauguration of Lenten observance, the Word of God invites us to an ever more authentic conversion of heart. God our Savior is even merciful, ever responding generously to any human movement of conversion.
For us repentance is the first half of the paschal mystery, We must be honest about our sin and our weaknesses and resolve with God’s grace to overcome them. We begin Lent today, however, not on a note of despair or even discouragement. Rather our hearts should be filled with hope because our eyes should be lifted up to God who created the paschal mystery.
The paschal mystery is a favorite idea of God. He applied it to the Israelites when He led them from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the exodus. He applied it to Jesus when He raised Him from death to the glory of resurrection. And He wishes to apply it to us during Lent by transforming our repentance into the fullness of His life and love.
Some people do not like Lent, but God loves it because it delights Him to continue the paschal mystery. It will please Him to transform the ashes of our Lenten penance into the joyful triumph of Easter Sunday.
Jakarta, 22 February 2023
A Christian Pilgrim