Earlier this week, on Ash Wednesday, we were reminded that we are dust and to dust we will return. Sacrifice, mortification, and turning into a pile of dust are certainly morbid concepts that our youth-centered society refuses to acknowledge. There exist entire commercial enterprises devoted to retaining our youthful appearance for as long as possible. Millions are made off our vanity and fear of aging. Dignified grays are dyed out of our heads and laugh lines are erased with creams and Botox.

Aging is natural; everyone will grow old and die and I see no reason to not embrace it. Growing old slows us down and allows a quiet reflective period not afforded to us in our busy young adulthoods, filled as they are with the responsibilities of work and raising a family. I believe God grants us the grace of becoming elderly so that we take those final years to draw closer to Him as we prepare to finally, and hopefully, meet Him.

Yet God, in His infinite wisdom, knows that some of us can't wait till we are slowed by age to receive these graces—great big fat sinners that we are. So the Church gives us Lent. Forty days out of the year where we are encouraged by the liturgical flow of the season to rend our garments, don sackcloth and ashes, and draw as close to our Lord as we possibly can.

Lent is not a few weeks of pointless doom and gloom; it is a 40-day retreat where sinners can find peace in the penitential practices and heal our wounds. After Lent we are recharged members of the Church Militant and are spiritually prepared to storm the world, the trumpets of Easter resounding in our hearts. Alleluia! He is risen!

But I am getting ahead of myself. The main focus of Lent should be so much more than giving up a few vices, like chocolate and alcohol; it's a time of interior examination of our sinful natures. This ongoing reflection helps us to recognize where in our lives we need to make changes, and impels us to rely on the Lord to get them made. We should turn from sin all year long, but the Lenten season is the one specifically designed for fasting and weeping.

To make the most of Lent we need to understand what exactly sin is and acknowledge that it does indeed exist, otherwise Lent is reduced in meaning and becomes notable only for the fish sandwiches we eat on Friday.

There is a growing rejection of sin in modern society. Few think they sin at all or believe that sin will directly offend God and severe our relationship with Him. "Sin" has been reduced to "problems" that can be fixed by medical professionals, psychologists and counselors. 

If sin has disappeared, then with it has disappeared forgiveness; if there is no sin then what need do we have of being forgiven? Don't worry, be happy?

God wants a relationship with us; he seeks us out and wants us to seek him in return. But God is all Truth. How do we approach him while lying to ourselves about what sin is and whether we even commit sins?

To find him we must acknowledge that we sin and embrace the resulting guilt born of sin, because the truth is we are guilty.

Lent is a beautiful mortification that thrusts us toward the waiting God and His grace. It is a beautiful, spiritually raw time when we meet his truth with our truth: we are nothing but sinful beings in dire need of His redemption and healing.