Smudges On Our Foreheads – Lent Brings Religion to the World

Smudges On Our Foreheads – Lent Brings Religion to the World February 13, 2024

Ash Wednesday begins a long journey of Lent. This liturgical season is a great opportunity to seek conversion of heart. Lent makes me think of my junior year in High School. I had returned to public school after being out of the system for five years. It was a very secular atmosphere. Generally speaking, I spent more time with the evangelical Christians as I could count on them being decent people, which was more than I came to expect from the general populace, particularly the Catholics.

Smudges on our Foreheads

For Ash Wednesday, I got a pass to arrive tardy, as I had gone to Mass early in the morning and received ashes. As I showed up to campus, different people looked at me curiously and let me know that I had a strange smudge on my forehead. I knew that it was there; I had left to start some interesting conversations. Some of the other Catholics mentioned that they were planning to receive ashes later in the day.

We are so used to religion being unperceived in our society. Much of our image of religious freedom is religious anonymity. The season of Lent, and in a particular way Ash Wednesday, allow our faith to be made visible. This gives us many exciting opportunities for evangelization. Sometimes, though, we can space out.

Getting ashes on our foreheads or on top of our heads and hearing the words, “you are dust, and to dust you will return,” give us a sense of the penitential nature of the season. We imitate the ancient Jews, who mourned in sackcloth in ashes. Our gestures are much less grand, but remind us that we need to be humble before God.

During Lent, We Give Up Meat on Fridays

I remember one day that year. I was having a McDonald’s hamburger for lunch. They cost $0.29 apiece on Tuesdays, and in my family we often bought 20 that day, the posted limit. I was chomping happily away, when a friend from the wrestling team confronted me. “You’re eating a hamburger!” “Yeah, so what?” “It’s Friday!” “Ok.” It was still not registering with me. Finally, he exclaimed “it’s Lent!” At that moment, I realized what he was communicating and I put my lunch away. To this day, I wonder if a McDonald’s hamburger can really count as meat on Friday as I doubt the actual meat content, but that is beside the point.

Some people say that not having meat on Friday is no great sacrifice. Good for them, but I always find it to be a meaningful sacrifice. Even just the mental gymnastics to avoid meat and making something else can be a good sacrifice.

Lived Out of Love

All of the sacrifices and special practices of Lent would be meaningless if we do not recognize the great grace that we receive on Easter. We know that we have to follow Jesus through his Passion and Death, but we end with his Resurrection. For 2,000 years, this has been the central mystery of our faith. Go to a cemetery. Most people get a one-way ticket there. Jesus rose from the dead, proving that he truly was who he said he was: the Son of God.

Through original sin, we all came into risk of losing Heaven. Through his Incarnation and the Paschal Mystery, Jesus has rescued us from sin and called us to communion with the Divine Life. It is a tremendous gift.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

Time of Freedom

Lent is a season of conversion, a time of freedom. Jesus himself, as we recall each year on the first Sunday of Lent, was driven into the desert by the Spirit in order to be tempted in freedom. For forty days, he will stand before us and with us: the incarnate Son. Unlike Pharaoh, God does not want subjects, but sons and daughters. The desert is the place where our freedom can mature in a personal decision not to fall back into slavery. In Lent, we find new criteria of justice and a community with which we can press forward on a road not yet taken (Pope Francis, Message for Lent 2024).

We can get caught up with “giving something up for Lent,” but we have maintain awareness that we are on a path to conversion. Do you need help thinking of your Lenten program? It is good to think of something in prayer, something in fasting, and something in almsgiving. This allows you to have a complete experience of Lent and enjoy the Paschal feast all the more.

What are you doing for Lent?

Poster about how to live Lent
Lent gives us an opportunity to seek conversion through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Courtesy | Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC

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About Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, LC
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was ordained a Catholic priest in 2013 for the Legionaries of Christ. He has been involved in youth work including missions, retreats and apostolic outreach in Germany, Italy, the United States and Central America. He is passionate about the New Evangelization and formation for young adults and married couples. He is a spiritual director and retreat director, offering marriage preparation and marriage counseling through the Divine Mercy Clinic and Family Center. He is currently Executive Director and Chaplain of the Newman Center at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Pasadena, California. You can read more about the author here.
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