Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent is Feb. 26.
Some people will automatically say, “It is time to give up candy, alcohol or smoking.”
That’s not the true spirit of Lent. Lent is a time for change and conversion. It’s a time to move our center of gravity from selfishness to others, from self-love to love of neighbor, from lust to love.
Lent gives us an opportunity to go into the desert with our Lord and to confront the demons within us – to ask the question, who or what are we really worshiping in life? Lent is a time to see if we really believe that the only real power in the world is love.
Lent is an opportunity to look at our priorities in life to see whether they are Jesus’ priorities. It’s an opportunity to examine our attitudes and see if we have “the mind of Christ.”
In the spiritual life as with all life, attitude is everything. Our actions follow our attitudes. If we have a bad attitude, we will do bad things. If we have a Christlike attitude, we will do Christlike things. So it is very important that we develop a Christian attitude based on Jesus’ teachings.
The ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday are our pledge to change and become more Christlike. It’s like a pledge card we fill out when we are making a contribution to the church or other charitable organizations.
That piece of paper is only as good as our follow-up. If we give the amount we pledged, then the piece of paper has meaning. If we don’t follow through, it’s meaningless.
So too are the Ashes. We receive the Blessed Ashes as a pledge before God and the Church that we are willing to join our fellow Christians in a 40-day journey of conversion. Often when we hear the word “repent” or “be converted,” we think it applies to someone who no longer believes in God and has taken up a sinful life.
People who attend church regularly, who pray frequently, who support of the work of the church, often dismiss this call as not applying to them.
However, conversion is a lifelong process for every Christian. Lent is a special time in which we focus as God’s family on conversion, changing ourselves. We all need to change.
Our change is not just from something but a change to something. We need to change our self-centered ways of doing things to caring about others. We need to change our tendency to worry about “what’s in it for me” to how can I help the needy.
We need to change our need to have and buy things and take responsibility for others and the world in which we live. We need to change our attitudes of promoting war to promoting peace; from destruction of the Earth to reverencing God’s creation; from despair to hope; from fear to faith; from self-hate to self-love. This includes the sinful things we do and our sins of omission.
The Blessed Ashes of themselves do not do anything. They are not magical. Someone can pour a bowl of Blessed Ashes on our heads and if we are not willing to change our lives and become more Christlike, nothing happens. Nothing!
We bless the Ashes and distribute them to the faithful as a sign that we as a Church Community are willing to be converted. Our willingness to make a public commitment to be the person God wants us to be is a holy act. The Lenten formulas remind us of our need to change.
The United States Bishops remind us in Go and Make Disciples, “Conversion is the change of our lives that comes about through the power of the Holy Spirit . . . unless we undergo conversion, we have not truly accepted the Gospel.”
May we all have a Christlike and blessed Lent!