Ash Wednesday 2011:
Return to me. Today we begin the season of Lent. A penitential season dedicated to bringing about these words from the prophet. God calls each and every one of us to repentance: return to me. The Hebrew word for repent is shuv. The word means return. It is a beautiful way to thing about the season of Lent. No matter where you are in your spiritual life. No matter if you feel close to God or if you feel distant, no matter if you have been away from Church for a while or if you go every day, we all need to return to the Lord. We are all sinners. We have all wandered away from God. But, no matter how far away we are, we can always come back, we can always return. Lent is a privileged season. I firmly believe that God pours out more grace during Lent than during any other season. Because the little secret is that God longs for our return even more than we do. God wants us to be in communion with him, he wants us to return and he will give us the grace to do so during this season of Lent. All of your prayers and sacrifices should be aimed at renewing your relationship with God, trust that he will help you.
The word Lent actually comes from an old English word that means "Springtime." In Latin, Lent is called Quadragesima, which means 40 day thing. Not too creative I will grant you: what will we call this 40 day thing... I know, let's call it the 40 day thing! But, in English we call it Springtime. We do this for 2 reasons. First, we do this because Lent always comes in the Spring, since it is attached to Easter. I mean we all know how we compute Easter right: Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Piece of cake really! Lent is always in the spring. But, we also call it springtime because it is supposed to be a spiritual springtime. I don't know about you, but I am sick and tired of winter. I'm sick of seeing snow piles. I'm sick of wearing coats and gloves. I'm sick of being cold. I'm sick of being stuck inside. I long for the warmer months ahead. But, just as we desire the warmer weather of spring, all of us, I think, desire to have a warmer relationship with God. I am convinced that no one is really happy with a cold relationship with God. Wouldn't we all like to have that fiery relationship with God sometimes experienced by the saints? Well there is no way to go from the icy cold of a wintery relationship with God to the hot and fiery summertime relationship unless you pass through a springtime: Lent is that perfect time. This should be a time of warming. Let God warm your icy hearts. Let God cause new growth to spring up within you like the plants that grow in the springtime. Allow him to fill you with new life.
This is the secret to Lent. We all know that we are supposed to do penitential things during Lent, but it is easy to forget why we do these things. We do them so that God may warm our hearts, warm our relationship with him, and cause new life to spring up within us. So make your resolutions today and keep them, stick to your guns for 40 days and God will do great things within you. But, you need a concrete plan. We hear today from Jesus the blueprint of our Lenten plan. We all know that we are supposed to pray, fast, and give alms. Every single one of you should make a resolution in each one of these three camps. And, you should follow my simple rule for Lenten observances: it should be difficult enough to be a sacrifice, but simple enough that you can do it for 40 days.
Prayer: make a commitment to giving time to prayer. Make it concrete. Don't say: I want to pray more this year... That is not concrete enough. But, don't say: I'm going to make 6 Holy Hours per day... You will never get that done. A good commitment for High School kids is 10 minutes. Make a commitment this year to spend 10 minutes per day in the Chapel here at Marian. You could make it before school, after school, during lunch. Try to make a concrete commitment to a chunk of time and stick to it.
Fasting: we all know that this is where we give stuff up for Lent. What are you giving up for Lent? This is a pretty standard question during this time of year. Remember it should be difficult enough to be a sacrifice: you can't give up something you don't like! I'm giving up brussell sprouts and boiled cabbage... Ok that's not a sacrifice. But not too difficult: I'm eating nothing but bread and water.... Ok too hard probably find something in the middle. I great one for high school kids would be to give up texting or Facebook, video games or drinking pop. Find something that would be a challenge and stick to it, you will find great spiritual benefit from having a good fast.
Finally, giving of alms. Alms are money. Some of you have jobs, consider giving a portion of your paycheck each week to the poor. But, many of you don't have jobs. Consider supporting Eric's promise. This is a great way to live a simpler life, help the poor, and deepen your relationship with God.
Lent is a season for us. God gives it to us so that we might become more holy, which makes us happier people. Prayer helps us grow closer to God. Fasting helps us with self-denial, which we all need help with that. Almsgiving keeps us less attached to this world and we get to help the less fortunate at the same time. All of which will cause a new springtime in our lives where God will bless us with a new relationship with him. All we have to do is hear his voice calling to each one of us: return to me with your whole heart.