Ash Wednesday: Beginning Our Lenten Pilgrimage
Today, our Lenten pilgrimage to the Paschal Mystery begins with people receiving ashes imposed on their foreheads in the sign of the cross, indicating a humble awareness of our human frailty and need to be cleansed and reconciled to God our Creator with all our heart.
For forty days, we walk with the Lord Jesus who is our destination as well. “The mark of the ashes with which we set out reminds us of our origin: we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust,” says Pope Francis. “Yet we are dust in the loving hands of God, who has breathed his Spirit of life into each one of us – and still wants to do so. He wants to keep giving us that breath of life.” Thus, God gave us his Son, who came so that we “might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).
Lent is part of our preparation for the new and eternal life of heaven. So that we might get there, the path on this pilgrim journey has special “hospitality stations” along the way, namely the sacrament of Confession, where we can get rid of the heavy baggage of sin that weighs us down. These stops are marked with special beacons, and once again as part of our traditional “The Light is ON for You” campaign, the welcoming door of the confessional is open on Lenten Wednesdays in area churches.
In addition to leaving behind the negative and unhealthy things in our lives, such as sin and near occasions of sin, this penitential experience includes too the time-honored practice of fast and abstinence, giving up something positive so we can personally experience in some small way the suffering of Jesus in his passion and better appreciate what life would be like without God’s gifts. Going against a worldly tide that tempts us to forget our relationship with the Lord, it is clear that human beings intuitively recognize the need for some spiritual discipline, some sacrifice. Lent serves to meet this need, which is one reason why the Ash Wednesday liturgy is so popular, even with those who otherwise are not particularly active in the faith.
Just as exercise, sleep and eating create a healthy rhythm and strengthen our bodies, so do the traditional Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving strengthen our souls. Rather than simply marking off these forty days, we are asked to think about this time as the pathway to a renewed and enlivened spiritual life.
May this holy Lenten journey, which we begin today, be an occasion to renew ourselves in the grace of the Holy Spirit. Our goal is that we are ever more prepared to celebrate with purified hearts the coming glorious Easter morning.