imposing ashesFor 40 days we enter into a period of fasting and prayer just as the Lord did in the wilderness, facing the Evil One, in preparation for his public ministry. The hallmarks, to be effective, have to sting a little. Prayer, fasting and the act of almsgiving ought to be intensified since these things are done throughout the year. That is, I need to be personally involved in lenten practices and we ought to feel the sacrifice of time, the intellect, and the will. The journey of faith is none other than fighting with sin and accepting the sovereignty of God in and over our life. We call this a journey for a precise reason: we are never finished turning our life with the help of grace to the Author of Life. In time it is hoped, that our measure is replaced by Christ’s, the influence of the powers-that-be is changed to the influence of the Messiah. Lent is the yearly reminder that heaven is our goal, the joy of new life is given to us because this is God’s desire for us. Zero-in on the Lord’s Passion and receive the gift of resurrection. Pope Francis said today in Rome,

Ash Wednesday, begins our Lenten journey of penance, prayer and conversion in preparation for the Church’s annual celebration of the saving mysteries of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. In these days the Church asks us to ponder with joy and gratitude God’s immense love revealed in the paschal mystery and to live ever more fully the new life we have received in Baptism. This journey of spiritual renewal in the footsteps of Christ also calls us to acknowledge and respond to the growing spiritual and material poverty in our midst. Specifically, it means consciously resisting the pressure of a culture which thinks it can do without God, where parents no longer teach their children to pray, where violence, poverty and social decay are taken for granted. May this Lent, then, be a time when, as individuals and communities, we heed the words of the Gospel, reflect on the mysteries of our faith, practice acts of penance and charity, and open our hearts ever more fully to God’s grace and to the needs of our brothers and sisters.

Since I like the Church Fathers, it seems that St. Maximus the Confessor has something to say to us:

God’s will is to save us, and nothing pleases him more than our coming back to him with true repentance. The heralds of truth and the ministers of divine grace have told us this from the beginning, repeating it in every age. Indeed, God’s desire for our salvation is the primary and preeminent sign of his infinite goodness, and it was precisely in order to show that there is nothing closer to God’s heart that the divine Word of God the Father, with untold condescension, lived among us in the flesh, and that he died, suffered, and said all that was necessary to reconcile us to God.

The wisdom of trusted Fathers of the Church s helpful:

The life of a monk [actually, use Christian] ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of his own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit. In other words, let each one deny himself some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing. (Rule of St. Benedict)