In a few days, on February 10, we gather together on Ash Wednesday to allow ashes to be imposed on our foreheads, an interesting gesture and sign of the church, not limited to Catholics. As we read in Sourcebook, “In the early church, when Lent was a time for the reconciliation of public sinners, the penitents would come to the church at the beginning of Lent, that is on Ash Wednesday. They would wear penitential garments, suggesting sackcloth, and be sprinkled with ashes. Then they would be ritually expelled from the assembly to do penance for forty days, returning to the church on Holy Thursday, when they would be readmitted to the sacraments.” “With time the expulsion of penitents disappeared, but the ashes remained and became a call to penance for the faithful. In the Scriptures ashes and sackcloth are the signs of penance.”
Using ashes from the burning of Palms developed in the 12th Century is a relatively recent development in the life of the church. There are two basic statements made when the ashes are imposed, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” Both statements give us food for thought, first that we are created from the earth, create from he elements, the basic building block of life, we recognize that we have the ability to choose right or wrong, good or bad and those decisions often affect the lives of other people. In remembering who we are, from where we came and yes, where we are going, we can take this wonderful time of Lent to examine our hearts and repent, do penance for any wrong we have done.
In this process we are not excluded from the church, but more intentionally included. The second phrase, “repent, and believe in the Gospel” moves us to action to live out our faith in concrete ways. In the Joy of the Gospel written by Pope Francis he addresses his work to all the faithful – men and women, young people and elders, the lay and ordained. He is particularly aware of the challenges facing the people to live out their faith and carry the hope and love of the Gospel to those who have yet to
encounter it fully.
There are huge challenges in our world to try and effect any change and by ourselves; it is impossible. However, as we look upon the cross of Christ, as we carry our own crosses with trust and fidelity, as we live our Catholic Christian faith, we can make a difference, one smile, one positive word, one kind gesture at a time. There are those who are brave and may take on human trafficking, take on spreading the Gospel through evangelization, or tending to those who are sick, weary, or even homeless. Each person exercising their God given gifts can make a difference. As we prepare to move into the church’s season of Lent, how will God’s Spirit call upon you to change your heart, expand your horizons, or reach out to someone else? You may not immediately know what God wants, but God’s Spirit can lead and guide you.
For this Lent, we also have a forty day personal retreat planned for you, stay tuned…
Blessings – Father Larry