Since the early days of the Church, Lent has been set aside as a time to encourage believers to draw near to God as they prepare to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Sunday. Traditionally, we prepare for Easter through forty days of increased prayer coupled with personal acts of self-discipline such as fasting as well as alms giving.
The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word for “springtime” – a season when new life is wrested from the clutch of winter. Lent is our time for revival and renewal – the springtime of the spirit.
We have all been through enough Lents to realize that complete transformation probably will not occur. But Lent is an opportunity for repair work in a specific area of our life that might need reconstruction.
Maybe we (you and I) have doubts about the faith or questions about things we do as a Church. Lent is a time to resolve the doubts and get some straight answers. Maybe we have been carrying personal wounds that have been eating away at us. Lent is a time to find ways to let the healing begin. Maybe our spiritual life is stuck in neutral and we want to be able to pray as easily and spontaneously as Jesus did. Lent is a time to start to experience prayer.
Each of us has some part of our life that needs a lift and some remodeling. Lent is less a time for pain and punishment than it is a time for healing. As the Prophet Joel says in the first reading: Nobody is exempt. Call everyone together – priests, lay people, young and old. This is the levelling significance of the smear of ashes: beneath all our differences, we all need renewal.
How do we start? One way might be to arrange to talk for a while with a priest or another fellow Christian or with the family. Another way might be to select a book carefully. There is a great deal of good writing on every area of life and concern to Christians. Be sure, however, it is a book with a size and style with which we feel comfortable. Also, so that our Lenten resolutions do not disintegrate as our New Year’s resolves may have, we might share what we have chosen to do with someone else. We can then encourage each other.
Lent is not a time for temporary improvement until Easter after which we go back to business as usual. The purpose of Lent is to make a lasting change in our life. If that is something about which you have been thinking, Saint Paul says in today’s second reading that “This is it!” This is the time! Right now! The iron is hot!
In the Gospel reading, the Lord reminds us not to go through the motions alone because this is serious business. If we are willing to undertake this effort and to experience through our Lenten resolutions the death and Resurrection of Christ, we must step forward to receive these ashes, ancient symbols of penance and renewal. We must come forward as we all begin to walk together this very personal road from winter to spring, “from ashes to Easter.”
Jakarta, 14 February 2018 [ASH WEDNESDAY]
A Christian Pilgrim