Lenten Reflection: Ash Wednesday
"Repent and believe in the Gospel." How many times have we heard these words uttered as the priest takes his thumb and marks our foreheads with the Sign of the Cross? Although the distribution of ashes will happen in a different way this year, the meaning of these words and the significance of the ashes can never be altered by a pandemic.
Ash Wednesday ushers in the penitential season of Lent. In the Old Testament, sackcloth and ashes were donned as a sign of repentance from sin and a return to the Lord. The ashes we receive are a reminder that we have sinned against God and are entering the season of Lent for the specific purpose of reorienting our lives toward Him. The ashes themselves are the burned palms used from Palm Sunday the previous year. On Palm Sunday, Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem by its rejoicing people; five days later they were calling for his crucifixion. How many times have we claimed to be followers of Christ, only to turn our backs on him when following him becomes dangerous or unpopular? The ashes remind us of our past failures to obey God and follow Christ, but not to inspire fear or despair in our hearts. "Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting in punishment" (Joel 2:13). God asks us to repent and return to him by expressing sorrow for our sins and trusting in his mercy. Let us never forget that Christ died on the Cross out of love for us.
May this season of Lent reawaken in us the knowledge of God's love, and prepare us to participate fully in the sacred liturgies of the Paschal Triduum.
"You are merciful to all, O Lord, and despise nothing that you have made. You overlook people's sins, to bring them to repentance, and you spare them for you are the Lord our God (Wis. 11:24,25,27)."
-Entrance Antiphon, Ash Wednesday
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