March 6, 2019
by Tom Shanahan, S.J.
Creighton University's Theology Department
click here for photo and information about the writer

Ash Wednesday
Lectionary: 219

Joel 2:12-18

Psalms 51:3-4, 5-6AB, 12-13, 14 and 17

2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2

Matthew 9:41-50

Praying Lent

Doing Lent As A Family

Parish Resources For Lent

First Four Days of Lent - 23 min.
- Text Transcript

Cooking Lent
Recipes for Ash Wednesday,
all the Fridays of Lent and for Good Friday

Remembering the Ashes

It has always been a slight confusion to me that on Ash Wednesday, the day of fasting, abstaining, seeking ways to go outside of ourselves towards the needy, all the things that flow from a graced mind and heart that we blatantly seem to show ourselves as good and noble Christians. “Blatantly show ourselves” refers to the rite of receiving ashes placed on our forehead by the priest to be seen by all!  Then, in the gospel we are warned, “(the hypocrites) neglect their appearance so that they may appear to others to be fasting.”  How to reconcile ashes at the beginning of Lent and being hypocritical? 

I have some thoughts that help to soften the dichotomy I experience between the beautiful ceremony of receiving ashes on this day with the very questionable wanting to show off how good I  really am.  Personally, I am so proud of people I see who are not afraid to have their ashes blatantly say, "I am a Catholic and I am grateful for that; and I want to live my life more attuned to Christ than ever."  To me that trumps the fear of looking bad to be good.
That’s why Ash Wednesday is so important for the beginning of Lent.  It’s a reminder that we NEED to be attentive to our ongoing conversion, and to be led to a focus on Jesus, his life, death and resurrection (the Paschal Mystery).

What’s most important for us?  Clearly not to fake out others to make them think that we’re something special.  But the truth is that we ARE something special, made so by our Baptism.  The point is where does that “specialness” end up?  If  it ends in God’s beauty and love for us and in Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice for us: it’s grace.  But if it ends in a falsely-humble sign of how good we are it’s the opposite of grace: it’s a blast of the Adam-side of us and totally unrelated to the beauty of Lent.

Lent is a “joyous” season even though many of us have been schooled to think of it as a somber or gloomy period.  We think of having to give up things and not entering into the deep joy of hearing and living out the call of Christ.  Lent is, liturgically, a preparation for the celebration of Baptism.  Members of our community receive Baptism and through it entrance into the very person of Christ.  At the end of Lent (Holy Saturday) catechumens begin their lives as “Christed” members of our faith community.  By Baptism they join us in the search for the profound meaning of life-in-Christ and growing in faith, hope and charity.

Nor are Baptismal promises a once in a lifetime event.  Each day I am invited to grow and deepen the reality of being IN Christ.  I want to be aware of the magnificence of that reality and to continue to keep it alive each day.  Lent gives me the opportunity to realize (i.e. make real) my relationship with Christ at an ever-deepening level. 
Six weeks of preparation for the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection point me to the ongoing grace of Baptism.  These weeks become a grace offered for the continuation of the Baptismal event of becoming one with Christ.  The Paschal Mystery beckons me each day to center my life on the reality of God’s love in the person of Jesus, rescuer and redeemer.

Lord, our God, thank you for your wonderful blessings of love in the person of your Son the Christ. You have blessed us abundantly in your Son.  Help us to receive your grace as we open ourselves to you this Lenten season. 

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