As we put ashes on our foreheads today, we want to live Lent as a time of cleansing and renewal. We want to strive for more holiness by a practice of prayer, fasting and alms-giving. We begin this season of grace in the spirit of Jesus whom spent time in the desert before his public ministry. It is a season of spiritual renewal, meant to help us to a more authentic style of life.
The Christian way is an exercise of holy desire as St. Augustine taught us. It does not require us to suppress our normal desires, but to raise and purify them. Our desires should not be equal to the standards of the world but to God standards. God wants us to have so much more! We are to tune in to a higher goal and keep that deep longing for God. Jesus recommends the way of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, the classic Lenten practices. Our relationship with the living God begins here and now. Prayer is the daily practice of our friendship with God and it sets us on the way to eternity.
Fasting is not as much about letting something but more about doing something. To turn towards God and our neighbor. Our fasting is not about losing weight but about practicing a spiritual self-denial and to turn towards God. All of us resonate in some way to the ideal of compassionate sharing. Lent is good time to change things. Maybe we could do more to serve the needy as a way to follow Christ in the world. We can prepare ourselves for a fuller love.
The ashes on Ash Wednesday make us ready for the transition of things and reminds us also of our own mortality. We start Lent as humble people aware of our own mortality. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” But that is not the only reason for the ashes. The ashes are made from the palms of last year’s Passion-Sunday. Jesus died and was buried in a tomb, the place of decay and the place of dust. But at Easter he rose from the dead to new life. Our ultimate destiny is not just a return to dust but to share in the Lord’s risen life. Amen.