(Photo: The Herald, Malaysia)
Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.
With these words, priests and lay ministers signed many a forehead with ashes on Ash Wednesday, which begin Lent. For Christians, Lent is a graced time: it calls us to conversion. To turn away from sinful ways of living that diminish our dignity and scar our wellbeing and to live life more fully in God and with one another. Lent invites us then to live as we are created for.
But who are we to live life? The ashes we were signed with can help us answer this question. They speak of our roots: out of dust, out of the worthless nothingness, God fashioned with great love and in deep reverence the splendor of creation, humankind. They express the reality of God loving us into existence for no other purpose than to live life joyfully with God and one another.
These ashes express more, however. Signed on our foreheads in the form of the cross, ashes remind us of God’s desire to transform us. They do not speak of our nothingness, as they remind us of our redeemed preciousness. God creating us out of nothingness witnesses to the profound love of God who sees in the dust and ashes our bodies will be in death the inestimable beauty of what our humanity really is, the finite form of God’s infinite Love. This is who you and I are called to become more really in Lent and why we can live fully with Easter joy.
Thus, the cross of ashes on our foreheads at Lent’s beginning must remind us that God birthed us into existence for life, not death. Our Lenten prayer, fast and almsgiving are to help us remember, celebrate and believe in this truth of Christian faith: God created us to save us, not condemn us.
Lent directs our gaze to the Cross that expresses this truth most visibly. There hanging on its wooden beams is one like us whose faithful love of God and compassionate love for humankind so pleased God that God raised him from the dead. Jesus on the Cross is the fullness that humanity can become: totally self-giving love. Jesus raised from the dead is what human self-giving love is destined for: communion with God and one another. Both speak of the fullness of Beauty, which is always human and divine: God loved us into living and we can live God in our loving.
This is the hope-filled reality of being human and believing in God the Church invites us to reflect on in Lent. Indeed, this is the reason Lent can be our joyful season.
Have a blessed Lent, my friends.
As we approach Ash Wednesday, I invite you to consider the points below to help you start Lent well this year.
“Let today be the day you give up who you’ve been for who you can become.” This is an apt line for us to reflect on for Lent and its call for our conversion. Let us take this time to examine our lives and to consider how we can let God transform us to become better and ready to live the spirit of the Risen Jesus. The Church’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving are three ways Christians have always practised to turn away from bad, sinful habits and so live more and more in God’s ways that Easter promises.
a) What change would you like to make this Lent, and so, turn your life around and live better going forth? Write it down in the form of a grace that you can bring to Jesus each morning. Share this change you are desire with Him.
Begin each day by asking for this grace in your morning prayer.
b) The Lenten practices can help us repent of our sinful ways and commit to transforming our lives in God’s ways. We are invited to consider (i) prayer like saying the rosary, (ii) fasting from food, sweets or online media, like Facebook or the pleasures we have like music or television, and (iii) doing charitable acts to care for the needy.
Pick one of these Lenten practices and commit to practicing it daily. You may want to use it as an intercession or offering for someone else or some need in the world.
c) The Church presents Lent as a time for repentance. This is good and necessary. It helps us to give up our sinful ways and to choose God’s ways to live life to the full.
Yet Lent is also a graced time to strengthen our friendship with Jesus, especially for people with same-sex attraction. This is because Jesus welcomes all who are same-sex attracted to experience God’s goodness in Lent — God’s compassion that welcomes, God’s mercy that forgives, and God’s love that gives life always. Jesus does this because his singular desire is to friends with you and me, and through this friendship, to bring us all into life with God.
A good way to think of the forty days of Lent then is the opportunity to grow in friendship with Jesus. He does not want to change who and what people with same-sex attraction are. He wants to be that friend who helps all to choose God’s ways in life. He desires to be everyone’s faithful companion on life’s journey home to God. He wants to do this because God has asked him to do this for us.
How do you want to improve your friendship with Jesus this Lent? Can you imagine what this friendship will look like when Easter comes? Have a conversation with Jesus about this as you would with a friend — speaking heart to heart.
Words to Encourage
Lord, bring us home to You. Accompany us with your love and grace, for these will be more than enough to help us turn back to You alone. Amen