The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday Once Again

Another season of Lent has officially begun and I find myself looking forward to the next 40 days. I need Lent, in the same way a thirsty man needs a glass of water. I need this time of introspection, this time of renewal, this time to set things right, to ask for God's help in recreating my damaged relationship with Him. For me Lent is a time to strip away the layers of accumulated grime that I allow to build up on my soul -- you know what I mean, all that worldly and personal stuff that keeps me from focusing on the one important thing: God's enduring love. 

And so, as I sit here in the quiet of this Ash Wednesday morning, I begin Lent filled with hope. Our loving, merciful God has given us these 40 days of renewal and His Church provides us with the sacramental means to bring about the change Jesus Christ demands of us. And Jesus does demand change. He doesn't merely suggest it. We are His disciples, and He expects us to follow Him. And His expectations are clearly related in the Gospels.

Perhaps the best way to begin Lent, then, is to reread the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) and recapture the essence of our Christianity, to realize once again what Christ asks of us. In rapid-fire succession, Jesus shares with us one eternal truth after another. He tells us how to live, explaining the Father's will for us. Being "perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48] is no easy command to fulfill, but this is what we called to be. We cannot even approach the Father's perfection on our own, and God knows this. That's why He gives us His Holy Spirit, our guide, our advocate, our strength. We are called to pray in the Spirit for the perfection of the Father, even though our prayer itself is less than perfect. As St. Paul reminded the Romans, "....the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings" [Rom 8:26].

And so, as we listen again to the words of Jesus, and are reminded of our many failings, we can take comfort in the knowledge that "for God all things are possible" [Mt 19:26]. He wants salvation for all of us. He wants all of His children with Him for eternity. We need only turn to Him, open our hearts to Him, and allow His Spirit to work in our lives. Once we abandon ourselves to God's love, determined to do His will, He will provide the means to lead us to the perfection He wants for us.

As for me during this Lenten season, in addition to "giving up" the usual things -- desserts, a glass of wine in the evening, etc. -- I intend to renew my prayer life, calling on the Spirit for His help and guidance. I also intend to forgive. That's right, I need to forgive a lot of folks for a lot of things, some small, some not so small. I also need to ask forgiveness from those I have hurt and from God Himself. Forgiveness, you see, is at the very heart of our Christianity. If one doesn't forgive, one cannot be a Christian. Jesus included forgiveness as a key element of our prayer when He said to His disciples, "...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" [Mt 6:12]. Not content simply to tell us to forgive, Jesus provided us with the perfect example of forgiveness from the Cross when He prayed, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34].

As Catholics we have the gift of God's forgiveness through he sacrament of reconciliation. What a blessing this is! Take advantage of it during this Lenten season, and taste God's merciful, forgiving love.

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