Ash Wednesday Is An Invitation to Turn Away From Sin and Be Faithful to the Gospel
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 Scriptures 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 is 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)
Lent is an invitation every year to more fully receive God's grace - His Divine Life. If we enter into Lent with our whole person, it can draw us at its' closure, into a deeper experience and 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". We need to embrace the Lenten practices.
Those practices of piety, asceticism and extended prayer and worship challenge us to "turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" and enable us to do just that. When lent 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 to us of our own 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 that posture of prayer and penitence 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 and find the healing, forgiveness and new life for which we long.
Afer receiving the ashes, we leave the Church as penitents and pilgrims.We publicly acknowledge our need for God's forgiveness. 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 Invites Us Again to us to Turn Away from Sin and be Faithful to the Gospel.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Ash Wednesday, lent, penance, repentance, forgiveness, fasting, spiritual warfare, penance, Deacon Keith Fournier
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