March 1, 2017: Ash Wednesday
As I look out in the congregation today, a question comes to mind. Why on this day do so many people come to church? More folks come today than any other day of the year except Christmas and Easter. Certainly it’s not out of obligation, for this is not a holy day of obligation. It’s not because the Church is giving out something materially valuable, for we are distributing ashes made from burnt palms from last year’s Palm Sunday. The only adequate answer I can think of is that we feel the frailty and the mortality of our lives. Perhaps, we feel a call from within, a desire to make right our relationship with God, for we do not know when God is going to call us home. Today’s responsorial psalm captures our inner desires:
Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
and of my sin cleanse me.
With Ash Wednesday, we are beginning the season of Lent. Think of Lent as a long retreat during which we recommit ourselves to prayer, to listen to the voice of God, to fast and offer sacrifice, and to offer concrete assistance to those in need. Lent is a period of spiritual combat against our selfish and prideful ways. During Lent, Lord Jesus gives us his Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness and to be our guide and consoler in temptation and testing. The Lord gives grace to the humble who acknowledge his dependence on Him and He helps us to stand against the attacks of our enemy, Satan, who seeks to destroy us.
The first step in entering into Lent is to heed our Lord’s call, “repent.” For Catholics, this means making the effort to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you have not been to confession this past year, it’s time. The Lord is calling you.
The second step is to be faithful to the Lenten regulations, especially today, Good Friday, and every Friday during Lent. The Church calls persons from age 18 to 59 to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. And, everyone from age 14 and up are called to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and every Lenten Fridays. So what about fasting and seafood platters or crawfish boils? Ask yourself if it passes this test. Does the quantity I’m eating exceed one full meal? On fasting days, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal.
The third step is to deepen your prayer life. What amount of time do you spend now in prayer? Do you look forward to speaking and listening to Our Lord in prayer? Our Lord is waiting, waiting to converse with us. Give Him the opportunity during this Lent by spending at least 5 more minutes than what we have been giving Him.
During this Lent, let us be reconciled to God! Use this opportunity to grow in holiness and experience the true joy of repentance and Divine Mercy.