The ashes represent our witness

God is always close to us. It does not matter whether we are sinning or doing well, He is always with us. We, on the other hand, are always closest to God when we strip ourselves naked of our earthly goods and come to the realization that we are entirely dependent on Him.

Image by Grzegorz Krupa

The ashes represent our witness

By Lou Occhi

Ash Wednesday
Joel 2:12-18
2 Corinthians 5:20—6:2

Just a few months ago, we went through Advent. During that time, we reviewed the scripture readings about the coming of the Messiah. It is a joyous time as we wait for His arrival. It culminates in a great celebration of His birth. Today, we begin a journey that is quite the opposite. We now prepare for the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

The first reading from Joel begins with, “Even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, fasting, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to your God.” The second reading from 2 Corinthians states, “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God”. The Psalm asks, “Be merciful O Lord for we have sinned”. This sets the stage for Lent.

For 30 years, Jesus led a normal life. He went through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. For the next two and a half years, He began His public ministry by gathering His apostles and disciples, performing great miracles, and giving moving sermons about salvation and the kingdom of God. Exactly when Jesus began his final journey to Jerusalem is unclear. Luke 9:51 tells us, “When the days drew near for Him to be received up, He set His face to go to Jerusalem.” Being “received up” implies being received into heaven. On the other hand, Luke 18:31 states, “And taking the twelve, He said to them, behold, we are going to Jerusalem, and everything that is written of the Son of man by the prophets will be accomplished.” For our purposes, Luke 18:31 is closer to what we recall during Lent.

During Lent, we are asked to travel with Jesus to the cross. We do this by making sacrifices, increasing our prayer life, and reconciling ourselves with God. Increasing our prayer life and reconciliation makes sense, but why make sacrifices during this time? When we make sacrifices or suffer in the name of Jesus, we are joining our sacrifice and suffering to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The fact that 2000 years have passed since Jesus's sacrifice makes no difference to God. In this way, we participate in His sacrifice in a very real way.

The five principal ways we can participate with Jesus during Lent or, for that matter, whenever we want are:

  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Reading scripture
  • Attend Mass frequently
  • Confession

To be clear, this does not mean we have to do all of these at once. We just need to do what we can and maybe push ourselves a little more.

Today’s gospel gives us some good guidelines on how to pray. There is no need to review that. Prayer is something most of us do regularly. We can increase that a bit during Lent. Following are a few suggestions. Praying the rosary, especially as a family, is wonderful. It seems that family prayer is sometimes difficult with our busy lives. Perhaps Lent would be a great time to start it up. It seems like saying the rosary is a large, time-consuming task. A rosary takes 15 to 20 minutes.

Another prayer to use is the Morning Offering listed below.

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, 
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and suffering 
of this day, for all the intentions of your Sacred
Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass
throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, for
the needs of all my family and friends, and in particular
for our Holy Father.

This one short prayer turns your entire day into an offering to God. Today, I would like us to pray the morning offering together instead of the Our Father at the end of our session.

One last suggestion regarding prayer is to participate in the Stations of the Cross. In the past, Our Lady of the Woods has had the Stations offered every Friday during Lent. I assume that will continue.

Fasting is a regular part of Lent. Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence. Today, we refrain from eating meat and limit ourselves to two small and one regular meal. We are also asked to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays of Lent. Many people also give up other things in addition to those already mentioned. This includes sweets, beer, or anything else you want to give up.

Reading Scripture is a good way to draw closer to our Lord. The Lord knows us intimately. He knows our name, our weaknesses, and our strengths. He knows when we are sad, mad, happy, and even how many hairs are on our heads. Through Scripture, He tells us all about Himself so that we can know Him better. It doesn’t matter whether you read the Old Testament or the New Testament. You will always learn more about our Creator through reading scripture.

We should attend Mass more frequently during Lent. This is not always possible. Alternatives are to go to Adoration or drop into church and pray before the Tabernacle. Our Lady of the Woods church is open during regular office hours.

Finally, we are asked to go to Confession at least once per year. More often than the minimum is highly desirable. Lent is a time of penance and atonement for our sins. Confession is the best way to accomplish this.

As we have already mentioned, God is always close to us. It does not matter whether we are sinning or doing well, He is always with us. We, on the other hand, are always closest to God when we strip ourselves naked of our earthly goods and come to the realization that we are entirely dependent on Him. When we suffer from a disaster and are left with a wrecked home and no food, water, sewer, phone, or gasoline, we realize we are not in control of our lives as much as we think. That is when we can be closest to our Lord. The good news is that we do not need to suffer a disaster. All we have to do is acknowledge that we are dependent on Him. We must remember to thank Him when times are good and ask Him for help when we face difficulties.

One last random thought. Is it a coincidence that sin and death began when the forbidden fruit was picked from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil and that death and sin were conquered when the fruit of Our Blessed Mother’s womb was hung back on a tree?

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