When I was growing up, I always believed Lent was a season of sorrow. There is an image presented to us in school that Lent is a time of dismay as people focus on penance and fasting, all to prepare for Easter. It can become easy to see Lent as a time to remember our regrets.
In recent years, there has been a growing shift in how we discuss Lent. Instead of dreary images, or an emphasis on suffering, priests across the country are encouraging people to view Lent in a new way. Primarily, they are doing so by expressing excitement for Lent.
On Ash Wednesday Catholics across the country receive ashes on their forehead to mark the start of Lent. The ashes typically come from the burnt palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday liturgy. The USCCB website notes the importance of this gesture, stating that this symbol connects the beginning and end of Lent with our change of heart through Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.
Why Ashes? When we receive the ashes, we are either reminded to repent or to remember that we are dust. Though the words may be different, their message is the same. Ash Wednesday is not meant to be a day where we gather our lists of goals and prepare to treat Lent as if it’s the Catholic version of New Year’s resolutions. Lent is not a time to simply hit the “reset” button but rather to meaningfully focus on God and allow our relationship with Him to become stronger.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our fragility so that we can meaningfully prepare ourselves to journey through Lent with God. If we remember the necessity of true inner conversion, Lent can become a time of prayerful reflection. Our sacrifices during Lent are not meant to be goals we reach as if there is a checklist to salvation. If we approach Lent as if it is just a time to start again on what we failed to do last year, Lent loses it’s meaning.
There is a beautiful saying that it’s only in our sorrow we learn what joy means. It is true that it is only in our sacrifice we learn what salvation means. Jesus sacrificed his life and suffered so that we could have eternal life. By joining in Christ’s sacrifice we have a chance to understand what that sacrifice meant and to realize God’s love for us.
Ash Wednesday brings us into Lent with a reminder of why Lent matters in the first place: we are called to love and to serve the Lord, all of our days. Jesus suffered and died for us, and Lent should be a time where we reflect on all the amazing gifts God has given us, and to deepen our relationship with Him.
Author: Teresa Ell
Next blog post