On Wednesday, March 5th, the Church began a period of intense prayer, fasting and of giving alms to the poor. Lent.
At Eucharistic services on that day, the faithful received the sign of the Cross on their foreheads with ashes. After the homily, the priest was to say: “Dear friends in Christ, let us ask our Father to bless these ashes which we will use as the mark of our repentance. Almighty God, bless the sinner who asks for your forgiveness and bless all those who receive these ashes. May they keep this Lenten season in preparation for the joy of Easter. We ask this through Christ our Lord.” The faithful, then, were to come forward and have ashes signed onto their foreheads. As the ashes were imposed, the minister would say: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”
One of the assigned antiphons, to be sung during the rite of the imposition of the ashes, comes from the book of Joel: “Come back to the Lord with all your heart; leave the past in ashes, and turn to God with tears and fasting, for he is slow to anger and ready to forgive.”
The Gospel for this first Sunday of Lent is from Matthew. Jesus is about to begin his public life and he goes into the desert to pray for forty days and nights. There the Evil One tempts him. The tempter tries to convince Jesus that it is nonsense for Jesus to expect to save the world by the way God proposes. Jesus is tempted to turn stones to bread, to throw himself down from the roof of the temple and, finally, to worship the Evil One.These same temptations assail the Church today. We ask Jesus to turn stones to bread without first changing our own hearts. We ask for signs and wonders while forgetting the signs and wonders that have come through God’s love and that have come through the mystery of the cross. We want to be powerful and to “go along to get along” with the society in which we live. We often participate in the evil of our society and forget that the end never justifies the means.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel, we were told on Ash Wednesday. Lent gives opportunity to “change our hearts by the grace of God” and to change our deeds and our lifestyle. It gives opportunity to really change, and not simply intend to.
Living the Christian life is no easier now than it was for our ancestors in faith. Greed, hatred, revenge, lust for power, selfish disregard for others … are still the norm. The love of God, however, urges us on and the fact that we are saved by the grace of God can empower us to turn away from sin and into the arms of God.
Father Carl Diederichs
Father Carl Diederichs is the pastor of All Saints Catholic Church in Milwaukee. We, at Vox Nova, are grateful that he would share this guest post with our readers.