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Ash Wednesday Calls us to Turn Away from Sin and Be Faithful to the Gospel

In an age drunk on self worship, a reminder of the brevity of our days should draw us to our knees. From there we can look up at the Cross which bridges heaven and earth.

Who needs Lent?  We do. If we enter into Lent with our entire person, it can draw us into a deeper embrace of the power of the Resurrection, beginning right now.Liturgy is the "work" (that is what the word means) of the faithful. Lent is a powerful liturgical season.  However, to borrow an adage from the recovery movement, it "only works if you work it". With its practices of piety, asceticism and extended prayer and worship, it challenges us to "turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel".

Receiving the ashes

Receiving the ashes

CHESAPEAKE (Catholic Online) - On Ash Wednesday, I have the privilege as an ordinary minister alongside of the Priest, to administer the ashes to the faithful who come forward to identify themselves as pilgrims on the 40 day journey of repentance and conversion known as "Lent".

The Ordo offers two exhortations to be said by the Priest or the Deacon as the Ashes, the burnt Palms from the prior years Passion/Palm Sunday, are rubbed into the penitent's forehead. "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" or "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return".

They serve as a sign of our committment to repentance and conversion. Being marked with those ashes begins the Season of Lent. It continues for forty days until the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday.

During these forty days the Lord Jesus Christ invites us to walk with Him on the Way of the Cross. This simple but solemn Ash Wednesday service is an invitation every year to those who have eyes to comprehend its opportunity. It is up to us to accept it and open its potential through our response, our free choice, to participate in its potential.

To an age enamored with false concepts of "choice" the Catholic Church rightly insists that some "choices" are always and everywhere wrong. She teaches that what is chosen not only affects the world - but changes the "chooser."  These words from Saint Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in the Catechism as well as in Blessed John Paul II's Encyclical Letter, "The Splendor of Truth", give some insights concerning our choices:

"Now, human life is always subject to change: it needs to be born ever anew.but here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings, it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions."

Freedom has consequences - and our choices not only affect the world around us, they change us - make us to become the persons we become. The capacity to make choices is what makes us human persons. It reflects the "Imago Dei," the Image of God, present within every human person.

As the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council wrote in their wonderful document on the Mission of the Church in the Modern World, "Authentic freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image within man." (Gaudium et Spes, "Joy and Hope," 17).

The Catechism also addresses the sobering implications of the exercise human freedom when it reminds us that "Mortal sin is a radical possibility of human freedom, as is love itself." (CCC, 1861.) In other words, what we choose truly matters. Authentic Human Freedom cannot be realized in decisions made against God and against the Natural Law.

Authentic freedom has a moral constitution. It must be exercised in reference to the truth concerning the human person, the family, our obligations in solidarity to one another and the common good. That is why the fullness of authentic human freedom is ultimately found in a relationship with the God who is its source and who alone can set us free. Because of the effects of sin, our freedom has been fractured. Only the splint of the Cross can restore it. 

In his encyclical letter on Faith and Reason, Blessed John Paul wrote: "It is not just that freedom is part of the act of faith: it is absolutely required. Indeed, it is faith that allows individuals to give consummate expression to their own freedom. Put differently, freedom is not realized in decisions made against God."

"For how could it be an exercise of true freedom to refuse to be open to the very reality which enables our self-realization? Men and women can accomplish no more important act in their lives than the act of faith; it is here that freedom reaches the certainty of truth and chooses to live in that truth." (Fides et Ratio # 13)

Choosing the good is the pathway to the realization of the fullness of authentic human freedom. Again the Catechism of the Catholic Church is helpful "The more one does what is good, the freer one becomes. There is no true freedom except in the service of what is good and just. The choice to disobey and do evil is an abuse of freedom and leads to "the slavery of sin." (Cf. Rom 6:17) (CCC 1733)

Ash Wednesday begins a period of protracted prayer, penance, meditation and ascetical practices(acts befitting our true repentance) which is called "Lent", a word which is derived from the "lengthening" of the hours of the day every year. It is no accident that Lent falls in this transition time in the seasons, when we move from the barrenness of winter with its long periods of darkness into the verdant new life and longer days of sunshine we call spring.

Our Baptism calls us to live in a naturally supernatural manner. The Church as mother and teacher often uses the symbols of nature to point us toward and help to obtain a supernatural effect. These symbols, such as the ashes which will be placed upon our heads, are to be viewed with the eyes of living faith.

In other places in the universal Church, this penitential season is also called the "Forty Days". That phrase has a deeply symbolic meaning. The Sacred Scriptures (the "Bible") speak to us on many levels. One level which we moderns in the West are often not aware of is its use of numbers as  symbolic language. Symbols open us to a deeper truth. For example, it is no accident that a child is usually in the in the womb for forty weeks, the fullness of the term. Forty stands for a time of fulfillment or completion.

There are several forty periods in the history of Salvation found in the Old Testament of our Bible. For example, the Forty days Moses was on the Mountain and received the Law (Exodus 24:18). The story of the spies recorded in the Book of Numbers results in their being sentenced for Forty years, (Numbers 13:26, 14:34). There were Forty days for the great Prophet Elijah in Horeb,(1 Kings 19:8). The prophet Jonah was sent to Ninevah for Forty days. and of course, the Israelites wandered in the desert for Forty years.

However, the greatest significance of the number comes as God's entire plan of salvation was taken up and fulfilled in the mission of Jesus Christ. In Him is revealed the New Israel and the New Law. He is the New Lawgiver. He, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. The world was created through Him. (John 1) He is the Word Incarnate. Through His Incarnation, creation begins again. He gives the forty day Lenten period its penultimate meaning.

This One in whom the fullness of the Godhead  dwells shows us the very meaning of our lives. He "fully reveals man to himself" in the words of the Council Fathers. (GS #22) He also shows us the great dignity to which we are now called - and actually capacitated by grace, to become, in, through and with Him. 

This forty days calls us into the desert with Him. There, He who knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21), a man like us "in all things but sin" enters into the temptations we face and shows us the way to overcome them. (Heb. 2 and 4) He was was tempted of the Devil for Forty days in the desert (Matthew 4:2). In Him we can now overcome temptation and progress toward the freedom to which we are called.

After a saving life of selfless love, He mounted the Second Tree of the Cross and opened His arms to embrace the world which had rejected God. Now, His voluntary sacrifice of Love complete, the Tomb is empty. Death, the final enemy and result of sin, has been defeated and the fruits of the redemption are being borne!

He was seen in His resurrected glory by his disciples for Forty days.(Acts 1:2) During that time he continued to prepare the New Israel, His Church, which had been birthed from the water and blood which flowed from His wounded side on Calvary. To that Church he entrusted his continuing redemptive mission until His glorious return. To that Church he entrusted His Word, His Spirit and Sacramental grace.

Our Forty day observance of this Holy Season of Lent inserts us, every year of our life, into this stream of God's action in human history. It invites us anew to participate in the great mystery of living and saving faith in the Savior in order to appropriate it more fully and make it our own.

Each of the forty day or forty year periods mentioned above was preparatory. So it can be for us as enter each year into Lent. The Church, our Mother and Teacher, invites us to empty ourselves through fasting, abstinence, prayer,charity and almsgiving. We do battle with the disordered appetites and passions which are a bad fruit of the effects of sin. The purpose, so that we can be set free, made new, and filled afresh with God's Divine Life and Love.

During Lent we engage in spiritual warfare. (See, 2 Cor. 10:4, Eph 6: 14 - 16) We do battle with the "world", the "flesh" and, yes, the Devil. Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44), is the enemy of Christ and therefore the enemy of all who seek to attain the fullness of salvation in Him. During these forty days we are invited to say "yes" to every grace offered to us. However, the choice is ours. Through grace we can can progress in our continuing conversion. We can more closely follow Jesus Christ who is the "leader and perfecter" of our faith.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us of the leadership Jesus provided as an example for us in these words: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith."

"For the sake of the joy that lay before him he endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God. Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart."

"In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood. You have also forgotten the exhortation addressed to you as sons: "My son, do not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when reproved by him; for whom the Lord loves, he disciplines; he scourges every son he acknowledges." (Hebrews 12: 1-6)

So, we ask the question, who needs Lent? We do. It is an invitation every year to more fully receive God's grace - Divine Life. If we enter into Lent with our entire person, it can draw us at its' closure, into a deeper embrace of the power of the Resurrection, beginning right now.Liturgy is the "work" (that is what the word means) of the faithful.Lent is a powerful liturgical season.  However, to borrow an adage from the recovery movement, it "only works if you work it".

With its practices of piety, asceticism and extended prayer and worship, it challenges us to "turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel". When it is voluntarily embraced it opens us to a deeper experience of the freedom which Jesus Christ has obtained for each one of us. Because "it was for freedom that Christ set us free" (Galatians 5:1,2)

Every Lent is a reminder of our mortality. "Remember you are dust and to dust you will return" is a time for us to pause and reflect. In an age drunk on self worship, a reminder of the brevity of our days should draw us to our knees. From there we can look up at the Cross which bridges heaven and earth. There at the altar of the New World, Christ became our Paschal Sacrifice. There we can climb into His wounded side.

Afer receiving the ashes, leave the Church as penitents and pilgrims. Let the Holy Spirit  shine the Light in those dark places. Make a good confession, pray more, genuinely fast, live in God's Word, frequent the Sacraments - and most especially the Holy Eucharist. Embrace the poor and needy - in all of their manifestations - and find Jesus in your arms.During these forty days we walk toward the celebration of the Easter Triduum, the three High Holy days. It is time to be signed with ashes. Ash Wednesday Calls us to Turn Away from Sin and be Faithful to the Gospel.


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'

Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for October 2015
That human trafficking, the modern form of slavery, may be eradicated.
Evangelization: That with a missionary spirit the Christian communities of Asia may announce the Gospel to those who are still awaiting it.

Keywords: Ash Wednesday, Lent, Forty Days, repentance, penance, fasting, prayer, ascetic, asceticism, sacraments, faith, Jesus Christ, conversion, born again, saved, Catholic, penance, Deacon Keith Fournier


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1 - 8 of 8 Comments

  1. abey
    3 years ago

    The word of GOD is to freedom, in the "maintaining & sustaining" to the life even unto eternal. Disobeying or going against the word is sin which is death, that came unto man from the beginning, to which solution is The Christ off GOD. "The Resurrection" so as to live in Him, die In Him & be Resurrected in Him to GOD, as the only way, for the simple reason that Jesus Christ is the only one who has been Resurrected, to Resurrect in His Resurrection, all coming in the grace from GOD. To understand it better, compare this to the reincarnation of the pagan belief, living many life's to attain Nirvana, paying for the sins in each life to be free from it, which is by 'own works", again impossible not knowing each life one lives, to work away previous sins & considering today's sinful time will only lead to accumulating it, which makes this Nirvana not to GOD, for sin is out of bounds with Him, since HE is life, its GOD. Sin does exhibit itself in the name of Freedom, the freedom to indulge, but against the word, like in Idolatry, signified in hiding behind idols to its Idolatrous ways in its many avatars into making the freedom to do the desires of the flesh to sin & its accumulations which is really what paganism is about & to this the Bible tells of Israel as "Worship of god through idols". It is against all this in the Truth, that Christ was sent so that by His Death & Resurrection, man be redeemed, to GOD & Lent is the time to clearly reflect upon all of this.

  2. Petronella
    3 years ago

    Truely great i went 2 mass early morning recieved ash's & blessed sacrament listened to the word.But after reading this i am reminded what the ash's are mean't for.we tend to just do it as routin so thankyou

  3. ninov
    3 years ago

    Don't like the loud, deep playing videos that play automatically on your web site. I realize this is ad revenue but when at work, and others are around, and I'm trying to escape for 2-3 minutes and read something Catholic, this loud sound makes everyone look at my screen and they see in huge letters CATHOLIC, which screams 'he's not working.' Well, so I took a 2-3 minute escape. So, I would say eliminate the autoplay videos.

  4. ninov
    3 years ago

    I think the article it great, but is missing the message of pennance. We need to take advantage of the sacrament of reconcilitation in this time. Fasting and abstinence are nice, but do not provide the same level of grace we can achieve through confesssion, not can they perform their supernatural grace if someone is truly living in original sin. I think it is also a time each year, to make sure we clearly understand where we come from (creation) and what we are hear for (redemption) and where we are going (sanctification). To live with the Lord in heaven. But we can't get to heaven, we can't get our journey on the proper path, unless we start with the beginning, with creation, with the trinity and God's love. The pattern of the Catechism is no accident either. Salvation history, the CCC says, does not start with Abraham, we most popularly like to think, but with the beginning of creation itself.

  5. ninov
    3 years ago

    I think we need to refrain from making reference to the days getting longer and brighter on our way to Easter. This shows a lack of understand for our brothers and sisters who live south of the equator, who's days are getting shorter and darker. These analagies, while nice, are simply not accurate to how God has created the world. There are clues to our salvation through His creation so pointing out somethign that is in complete oppositon for 50% of the globe seems strange to me. Many make these sorts of, what I would consider, failed analogies, inconsistent with God's creation. (located in one of the earlier paragraphs)

  6. Eshitera Alfred
    3 years ago

    to me reading the article has been like attending the ash Wednesday mass. I am in place where I could not attend this important mass.


  7. jh
    3 years ago

    Deacon, there is great strength and power in your words. You explain concepts clearly and with great love of God, urging us to follow Christ Whom we cannot fathom. However, Our Lord does not ask us to understand Him, but to love Him, " you love Me?" And since we are so helpless, He comes to us, helps us. Thank you for stating so powerfully the meaning of Lent.

  8. reynold klages
    3 years ago

    The message has depth and is uplifting at the same time. It is educational and informative.

    Thank you.

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