Ash Wednesday: The Beginning of the Church’s Retreat

 

There’s a Peanut’s cartoon where Lucy asks Charlie Brown, “Do you know what the trouble with you is, Charlie Brown?” He gets angry at her and says, “No and I don’t want to know!” before walking away. Lucy yells at him, “The problem with you Charlie Brown is that you don’t want to know what the problem with you is!” Ash Wednesday is one of the most honest days we have as Catholics. Ashes are put on our foreheads as we  hear, “You are dust and unto dust you shall return.” We are mortal and will die someday, a great truth and reality not many wish to face. Yet those ashes proclaim that truth.

Ashes also speak another great truth; we are sinners in need of conversion and repentance. Those ashes on our foreheads are admitting we are the problem simply because we have not seriously taken the call of our Baptism to love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The call  to be the Church and bring Christ to the world has been compromised out of fear or apathy. You know what the problem with you is? Yes, only too well do I know; that is why ashes and Lent are needed.

Yet, rather than be overwhelmed by our sin and shortcomings, ashes are made in the sign of the Cross as they mark our foreheads. That serves as a powerful reminder that each one of us are claimed by Christ. Humanity is so passionately loved and desired by the Trinity, that the Second Person became one of us in every way it means to be human, though without sin. He emptied Himself of glory and embraced the Cross, dying for us and then rising in glory. All this happened, according to St. Paul, when we were dead in our sin (Rm. 5:6).  We had no way of proving ourselves worthwhile to God that He would take such a step in giving His Son to save us. Yet, in our weakness and powerlessness, we were delivered, saved, washed clean, and made a new creation because of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Lent can be seen as a somber time: purple vestments, abstaining from meat on Friday, a fast day on Ash Wednesday, more prayer, self- sacrifice, and acts of charity. The word Lent, though, means “springtime.” The Church calls it a “joyful season.” Why? Simply because  before we seek ashes or put together a list of things to do for the next forty days, God has searched for us, like He did for our first parents. “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9) He asked them. He also asks us that same question “Where are you?” People have hidden in a computer or on an iPhone. They have hidden in apathy to seriously live the faith, or have settled for the fast food of passing pleasures instead of being nourished on a living relationship with Christ. Sin has touched lives. There are so many ways people can hide, yet God is always looking, searching, and asking “Where are you?”, not stopping until He finds us.

Before making any plans on what you’d like to do during Lent, first, be still and quiet before the Lord. Ask Him to help you become aware of one area of life that needs change that will make you different when the Great Lenten Retreat is complete. Lent is not a time to give up cookies or go on a Catholic Weight Watchers diet. It is a brutally honest time to admit we have sinned and need the Lord’s forgiveness and grace to live differently. If we mark ourselves publicly because we know we fell short of our Baptism, shouldn’t our faith in Christ also become more public and alive? Perhaps there, we need a rebirth, a new spring, a Lent that will be more alive for Christ.

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