Just as the prophet Joel calls Israel to unite in worship in a spirit of penance, so today we gather liturgically to begin an extended period of penance that we call Lent. As the minister places the ashes on our heads we hear either the first words of the Gospel that Our Lord preached when beginning his public ministry (“Repent, and believe in the Gospel”), or that we came from nothing but dust and our sins want us to return to dust and not enjoy what Our Creator has wished for us (“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”). If we need to be reminded of the first Gospel steps to take in life, and of the fact that we are creatures it means we’ve lost sight of the big picture. Lent helps us bring that big picture back into focus.
St. Paul in today’s Second Reading reminds us of the goal of our penance: to be reconciled to God. The Lord himself doesn’t need to seek out our reconciliation and is blameless for us estranging ourselves from him, but he comes to reconcile us with the Heavenly Father anyway. It is through Jesus Christ that the work of our reconciliation is accomplished, and during these days of Lent we are remembering and preparing for that very event. Even as we consider the somber purple of this season we remember the sorrow and suffering, often self-inflicted, that we experience due to our sins, as well as the pain inflicted on Our Lord and on others. So we begin once again with prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to draw closer to God and to others in sorrow for our sins and a desire for reconciliation, confident that Our Lord at the end of these days will win us the graces to do so.
Let’s receive the ashes today with contrite hearts and ask the Lord to help us adopt the best Lenten resolutions for conquering our sins effectively and reconciling us with God and with others.
Readings: Joel 2:12–18; Psalm 51:3–6ab, 12–14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2; Matthew 6:1–6, 16–18. See also 11th Week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday.