On Ash Wednesday, we hear these words from St. Paul’s second Letter to the Corinthians: “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Lent is “a very acceptable time” since God wants to create a pure heart in us and to renew within us a steadfast spirit, as we heard in the responsorial Psalm on Ash Wednesday. Lent is truly “the acceptable time” to allow ourselves to be reconciled with God in Christ Jesus. Let us resolve to open our souls to God’s grace and love during these forty days. I encourage you to live intensely this journey of conversion towards Easter through the traditional practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
In our Lenten journey, we recognize together that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. We pray with the psalmist: “Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.” We do penance and make sacrifices out of love for God and our neighbor. We practice self-denial as disciples of the Lord who said: “Whoever wishes to be my follower must deny his very self, take up his cross each day, and follow in my steps” (Luke 9:23). The Lord also invites us to the worship that is pleasing to Him – to “rend our hearts, not our garments,” as the prophet Joel exhorts us. We know that the worship pleasing to the Lord is not only our prayers, but also our charity, our love for our neighbor, especially those in need. That is why almsgiving is one of the traditional practices of Lent.
Pope Francis asked Catholics throughout the world to pray and fast on Ash Wednesday for the people of Ukraine. The unjust invasion of Ukraine by Russia has brought tremendous suffering to the people of Ukraine. Let us pray for them and for peace in their homeland. I invite you to remember Ukraine in your prayers and sacrifices throughout the season of Lent. Let us be in solidarity with these brothers and sisters whose freedom has been violated and who seek to live in peace and the dignity of the freedom that is their right.
When we received ashes on Ash Wednesday, the minister pronounced one of these two formulas the Church provides for the imposition of ashes: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
The first form recounts the words of Jesus Himself, who began His preaching with these words: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Lent is a season in which we hear this call to repentance anew each year. Through our Lenten practices and devotion, we are converted anew to the Lord whose grace helps us to return to Him. The Holy Spirit brings our sin to light and gives our hearts the grace for repentance and conversion.
St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” These words echo within our hearts during Lent. Jesus has reconciled us to the Father. He calls us to repent and, thereby, receive this grace of reconciliation. In Jesus, we who are sinners receive the possibility of an authentic reconciliation. Only Jesus can transform a situation of sin into a situation of grace. The sacrament of penance and reconciliation is a gift from the Lord in which we experience this transformation. We repent of our sins and we receive the Lord’s forgiveness. We are reconciled to God and to His Church. Making a good confession should be an important part of our Lenten journey.
During these forty days of Lent, let us keep our eyes firmly set on Christ crucified. His cross is our salvation. We will venerate the cross on Good Friday. Praying the Stations of the Cross during Lent is a beautiful practice. Jesus carried the cross, which represents the weight of all humanity’s sins, including our own. He carried the cross to Calvary, to fulfill by His death the work of our redemption. Jesus crucified is the image of God’s boundless love and mercy for us and for every person. When we pray the Stations of the Cross, we meditate on our Lord’s sufferings. It is an opportunity to tangibly experience the powerful truth of our redemption through the cross and to meditate on the love of Jesus for us.
The other formula at the imposition of ashes reminds us of our mortality: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This is our fate, just like it is the fate of animals. We are creatures, made of earth and destined to return to it. The ashes remind us of our mortality, of death. It is important that we deeply feel and experience our mortality. Every passing day brings us closer to death. There is something destructive about death. It is rather disheartening to think about returning to dust. But it’s important to do so, to not forget that we are merely passing through this world.
At the same time, we know that we were not created for death, but for life. Our death does not mean destruction and annihilation. We have immortal souls. We know that our human bodies will decay, but that our souls will meet God at the moment of our death. We also believe that God will grant incorruptible life to our bodies by reuniting them with our souls, through the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Human death was defeated by the resurrection of Christ. We are preparing during the season of Lent to celebrate the joy of the resurrection of Jesus. Lent is a journey not only to Good Friday, but to Easter Sunday.
Let us ask our Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Sorrows, to help us to make a good Lent. Mary shared in the suffering and redemptive passion of her Son. May her intercession help us in our spiritual combat against sin! May Mary, the first and greatest disciple of the Lord, accompany us throughout this Lenten season!
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