Today, Catholics and in increasing numbers, other Christians, will have their foreheads marked with ashes in the form of the cross. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the holy season of Lent which will lead us to the Easter Triduum, the memorial of the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord.
From time to time in the Liturgy of the Hours, we pray “The Lord loved me and gave himself up to death for me” (Gal 2:20). It is a very personal response, we don’t say, “The Lord loved us,” or “The Lord loved his people.” This response and the season of Lent invite us to appreciate more deeply that the Lord died for each one of us, for our sins. In a very real way – in an individual way – he had you and me in mind. Though we know this and we celebrate this great sacrifice of Our Lord every time we gather for Mass, we need the annual season of Lent to remind us of the depth and breadth of the love Jesus has for us. Lent invites us to be transformed by that love through a conversion of mind and heart.
Jesus’ passion reveals the greatness of God’s love. When the Son of God in His humanity freely laid down his life for us, He taught us how much we are loved by God, and He enabled us to love God in return and love one another. As our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, beautifully states in his 2013 Message for Lent:
“Christians are people who have been conquered by Christ’s love and accordingly, under the influence of that love – “Caritas Christi urget nos” (2 Cor 5:14) – they are profoundly open to loving their neighbor in concrete ways (cf. ibid., 33). This attitude arises primarily from the consciousness of being loved, forgiven, and even served by the Lord, who bends down to wash the feet of the Apostles and offers himself on the Cross to draw humanity into God’s love.”
The cross teaches us vividly the gross malice of sin. In the heroism of the passion, Christ gave us a pattern for the obedience, humility, and steadfastness that we need to serve God faithfully, and He showed us the need to do works of justice and mercy even if we are being treated unjustly. In the next forty days we are asked to consider how through prayer, fasting and almsgiving we can imitate in our own lives Jesus’ obedience, humility, and mercy.
For those who know the burden of a cross, Our Lord’s passion is a source of great comfort. If you are burdened with pain, fear, contempt, loneliness or fear of death, you will find great strength in knowing that God himself has freely endured such evils and that he fully understands us when we invoke Him in our trials.
Not one of us is beyond the gift of conversion in this season of Lent. Lent brings into focus what it is we mean by calling Jesus our Mediator. When all mankind was alienated from God by sin, He restored us to peace with the Father, bringing together in himself God and humanity. Jesus mediates, brings together and unites humanity and God in his very person, and by His saving passion He enables all human persons to be reunited with their God.
If it is this peace you are seeking this Lent, I hope you will take advantage of the opportunity to go to confession on any Wednesday night in Lent (beginning next week). Through our annual initiative called The Light is On for You, you are welcome in any one of our parishes in the archdiocese and in our neighboring parishes in Virginia on Wednesday evenings for confession and prayer.
In addition to confession, there are other devotions that can be particularly meaningful in this season of Lent. The Stations of the Cross are a beautiful way to enter more deeply into the mystery of Jesus’ passion. The sorrowful mysteries are prayed on Wednesday and Friday and that may be the prayer you choose to make a practice of this Lent.
Though Lent is a penitential season, we repent of our sins and enter into a period of conversion with hope because of the knowledge that sin has been conquered. With the great spiritual writer, Thomas á Kempis, we pray, “In the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is protection from enemies.”