Ash Wednesday 2012:
Today we begin Lent. Ash Wednesday: we receive ashes and hear: remember you are dust and to dust you shall return. Kind of depressing isn't it? Why this focus on ashes? I think ashes are a great way to describe life without God. Because without God in our lives we are nothing, without God we come from nothing and we head toward nothing. But, with God there is life, with God there is hope, with God there is love. We start Lent with ashes because we should have a desire to have more than ashes. These ashes remind us that we should desire new life. But, Lent is a time of penance. The Church tells us that if we want new life, it will come through penance.
This shouldn't really surprise us if we think about it. Lent is a season where we prepare to celebrate the great triduum, where we celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus. Lent prepares us for Easter. So, if this is a season to prepare ourselves to celebrate the resurrection, it should look like the cross of Jesus. Because the resurrection is only possible after the crucifixion. Jesus is our model in all things, and the new life of the resurrection could only happen by way of the cross. In a similar manner, the new life that God wants to spring up within us this Lenten season will come about if we embrace this season of penance. Lent is not supposed to be fun, Lent can and probably should be a difficult season of suffering. But this suffering leads to new life.
Jesus describes for us today the three components of penance: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Every single one of you should make a resolution in each one of these three camps. And, remember my rule that I tell you every year: 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 pray 10 rosaries everyday... 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. Or go to Mass: we offer Mass after school every Tuesday and before school every Thursday: one great spiritual practice for Lent would be to go to Mass an extra day every week. I know it is a big sacrifice to stay after school or to get here early, but remember that the new life God wants to give you will grow through penance and self-sacrifice.
Fasting: we all know that this is where we give stuff up for Lent. But I once heard someone say: this year I'm not giving up anything for Lent, I'm going to be more loving. Great! You should love all the time: give something up for Lent! Fasting teaches us something that we rarely learn anywhere else: self-denial. Self-denial is something that we struggle with as human beings. In fact, if we were better at self-denial we would still be in the Garden of Eden. If you can give up sweets, or soda, or Facebook, or texting during Lent you will exercise that self-denial muscle which can be quite weak in all of us. With that muscle to help you, you can be more loving and more charitable the rest of the year.
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.
I am absolutely convinced that God wants to do something amazing in your life. Let this be the year you make a commitment to Lent. Let this be the year you allow Christ into your life. No matter how you feel about your relationship with God right now, give Lent a chance. I guarantee that after 40 days of penance you will know yourself better and, more importantly, you will know God better. We are about to receive ashes, which are a powerful reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. But with God in our lives we have something more.