Have you noticed that Ash Wednesday is one of the days when Catholic churches are most crowded? What about wearing ashes captures people’s imagination? The practice is so powerful that in recent years Lutherans and Methodists among others have rediscovered this ancient practice. This is even more surprising since the ashes remind us that one day–we will die.
For Catholics Ash Wednesday is the start of Lent, a forty-day period of time where we examine our relationship with God. Specifically we look at the ways sin weakens our relationship with God and weakens our relationship with the people who fill our lives and our cubicles.
Really, there is more to Lent than not eating meat on Friday. When has good sushi on Friday ever made a difference in your relationship with God? Reducing Lent to “giving up something” or not eating meat is at best Lent Lite.
The three ancient practices of Lent get at the heart of what is means to be Christian and help me take Lent more seriously. In Prayer–I examine my relationship with God. Is God at the center of my life and is God getting quality time? Prayer is both listening to God and talking with God. I can always do more of both.
By Fasting–I examine myself. Do I treat the good things in life as gifts from God and gifts to be used responsibly and in moderation? Is the way I am eating and drinking contributing to good health or making it harder to live healthy. Am I looking for love in all the wrong places? Am I spending too much time in cyberspace and in a virtual world–at the expense of real relationships and real responsibilities in the real world? Fasting teaches me moderation and right balance in all areas of my life.
Through Almsgiving–I think about how I share my time, my talent and my treasure for the good of other people. Sometimes, it is so much easier to write a check or make a donation than to give up some of the time that I seem to have so little of for me, to support a cause or “be there” for a family member or friend. Jesus teaches us that the measure of our love for God is the measure of our love for others–especially the others that we don’t really like.
Make the most of these 40 days to let go of some bad habits and pick-up some good habits that in the language of faith are called virtues.
May God fill these days with his grace and mercy.