Hello friends of The Catholic Family. It is Ash Wednesday as I write this reflection. I’m late getting my monthly column in to the “Sweeney-works.” Life has a way of catching up with and speeding past good intentions and plans.
I have what others in the world see as a ‘smudge’ on my forehead. The pastor applied ashes to me before the two of us stepped down to the floor of the sanctuary and applied ashes to the faithful gathered for the non-obigatory Mass. It is often that we see people who aren’t familiar to us on Ash Wednesdays. Some folks treat this as a high-holy-day of obligation; it isn’t.
In my homily at Mass this morning (and again at the Mass I will assist in this evening), I spoke about a project initiated by our Knights of Columbus. We purchased something like 250 copies of Matthew Kelly’s wonderful book, REDISCOVERING CATHOLICISM. Sometime earlier, I had introduced this book during weekend homilies, but the Knights wisely recognized that we might see some folks on Ash Wednesday whom we don’t see at regular weekend Masses.
I had been told that Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Phoenix Diocese had given 1,000’s of copies of this book away to help awaken people in his diocese to the gift of the Catholic Faith. And up in Cottonwood, Arizona, a pastor gave 100’s of copies away, one to each parish family.
I told those attending this Ash Wednesday Mass that the beginning of this book is the prologue. It starts on page 13 and ends on page 16. Four pages. “Those pages will hook you, I promise. And then as you read more and more you will come to REDISCOVER CATHOLICISM – which is God’s plan and gift for us.”
Now on this kickoff for Lent, many come to get ashes, and if our hearts are properly oriented, our focus is on growing in holiness through prayer, fasting and almsgiving. That is the call of Lent: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. One aspect of prayer includes reading spiritual writings… spending time with Scripture or the saints.
When you and I were baptized, we were marked with the sign of the cross. There was an outward marking done by the priest or deacon. There was also an inner marking — a sign placed on your soul that you are marked as belonging to Christ… you were marked as a member of the mystical body of believers.
But being marked isn’t enough by itself. We know this because many who are baptized, even if they receive confirmation, they don’t go on to live lives of on-fire Christians. No, it isn’t enough just to be marked, we need to accept the marking we have received. And then we have to move forward and demonstrate what it means to be active, on-fire members of this mystical body. The faith we have been given is truly only LENT to us. We need to live it. We need to pass it on.
And so the Church gives us this season of Lent. Lent means “springtime.” It is the springtime of our life in the Spirit. Lent is a special gift of God to His people. Lent is a season of growing, spiritually.
It is an opportunity to imitate Jesus as He fasted forty days in the desert. Pope John Paul II shared this thought: “It is no exaggeration to say that the entire existence of the lay faithful has as its purpose to lead a person to a knowledge of the radical newness of the Christian life that comes from Baptism.” In other words — John Paul is teaching us to REDISCOVER CATHOLICISM, lent to us to be shared with others.
Ashes are applied to you and me in the shape of the sign of the cross. Ashes remind us that our goal doesn’t end in this life. Our goal lies in the afterlife. The goal of Christianity isn’t the marking we receive, it’s the living out… the actions we take to activate the markings we received in Baptism.
There is an old saying that faith isn’t taught – it’s shared. And in Lent, share some of your money – give alms. Pray in new and additional ways. Fast from foods or TV or gossip or self-satisfying activities. Spend time with Scripture and the lives of the saints. Let the Lord know that what you are doing this Lent is so you can draw closer to the Father, as Jesus did when he went into the desert.The renewal of our baptismal promises is the goal of Lent.
And renewing our baptismal promises means that we will again become Lent-active in what we are marked with externally. All our Lenten goals should move us in this direction.
Friend, blogger and now author Sarah Reinhard has written a family-oriented book WELCOME RISEN JESUS — Lent and Easter Reflections for Families. We have a young mother in our parish who has six children. She bought copies of Sarah’s book and she started using it today, Ash Wednesday. She said the first day reading and activities brought tears to her eyes. It’s perfect for helping to make her family Lent-active.
You and are are marked. We’re marked internally as member of the Mystical Body. Today, we’re marked externally. At Mass, I challenged those who would come forward for ashes that before they washed the outside marking off, to look into the mirror and say to themselves: “I recognize my faith is a gift. I want to REDISCOVER CATHOLICISM. I want to be an on-fire member of Christ’s Church. I know that my Catholic Faith is only LENT to me. I want to pass it on.
I’ll meet you all in the desert.