“Repent and believe,” the minister said to me as she marked my forehead with a cross of ashes.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season, a 40 day journey focusing on repentance for sins, reminiscent of Jesus’ days spent in the desert preparing for his ministry. The word “repent” actually means turning physically 180 degrees, changing direction from where you are currently going and turning back towards God.
Confession is the first step and the best way to repent. The Israelites believed that knowing the name of something gave you power over that thing (complete sidenote—that’s why God’s name I AM is so incredible.. He is self-containing and un-ownable). What things in your life are controlling you? Naming our sins and recounting them to God through one of His priests breaks our chains of slavery and restores us to self-mastery.
Sometimes our sins can become habitual, and in addition to confession, this 40 day preparation for Easter is a time for cleansing our hearts and souls of all things which come between us and God. It is a time to break these habits and make a sincere effort to target and remove these roadblocks.
Is your schedule so busy you can’t find time to pray? Prioritize prayer time this Lenten season. Do you control what you eat or does what (and when) you eat control you? Make God your only master. Give up snacks in between meals once a week, or abstain from eating candy and sweets. Does your tongue have a mind of its own? Be mindful of what you say and make a concerted effort to not complain or speak about others behind their backs. Do homeless people make you uncomfortable? Learn to see God’s face in them by volunteering at your local soup kitchen every other week during Lent.
There’s no one Lenten sacrifice that is right for everyone. We each have our own weaknesses to work on, which is why each person should “give up”, or make an effort to “do” something that will bring them, personally, closer to God. However, by abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, we can share our mission to grow closer to God as a community by uniting our efforts for the same cause. This solidarity is shared in communion with Catholics around the globe, and reminds us that we are never alone in our struggles. Struggles acquire meaning by being united with the struggles of Christ, and what better way than to come together as the Body of Christ, each Friday that we remember his Passion?
Stations of the Cross are another more visible way to re-live the struggle of Christ. By praying as a community and meditation on each step of His Passion, we bring ourselves together into His struggle and unite ourselves to Him. It is an exercise to draw us out of ourselves and our personal struggles, and shift our focus to the Passion of Christ, so that we can bring our suffering to His feet.
May this Lent transform you deeply, that you may be reborn with Christ in His Resurrection.