Today we begin our extended Christian journey into the spiritual environment of Lent. Lent will lead us to what is called the Easter Triduum- the memorial of the Last Supper, the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord, which will reveal to us the extent to which God’s love or charity will travel for our salvation.
In Lent you and I are called to humbly ponder, study, and explore God’s love at work in the life of Jesus Christ and our relation to it. For forty days we shall journey into a dimension, therefore, of repentance and contrition, of amendment and transformation. For forty days we must look into our souls. There we must locate and identify our persistent and habitual sins. We then name and claim them. We must offer our sorrow and sadness over them to God. We must beg for His merciful forgiveness and then for his healing power to eliminate them. We look into our souls and find the less commonly practiced vices too, express our sorrow over them and ask the Lord to subdue and conquer them.
For forty days we go up to a spiritual Mount Sinai in order to be confronted, challenged, and overcome by the Lord’s truth, beauty and goodness. As we begin to submit to His nature, for forty days with Him we shall be tempted of Satan, knowing that as we repent of our former sins and negligences, the devil will desire to have us in new and exciting ways. Our temptations are occasions to cleave all the more resolutely and persistently to Jesus as we learn to die to the world and the flesh that the devil idolatrizes. So we must clear away the cobwebs of forgetfulness, cut away the thorns that persistently choke the birth and growth of virtue in us, and melt our hearts into a readier submission and docility to God’s Word of love. We do this in order to open our eyes and enflame our desire for the love of the Crucified One who is dying to save us.
In Lent we admit who we are. In Lent we admit where we come from. In Lent we know where we must go and what path we must take. We are sinners. We come from nothing. We must go up to Calvary and then move beyond it with Jesus to become something completely new. We take the path that Jesus paves before us. Before us lies the straight road of human life offered and returned to God. The human life that leads the way belongs to Jesus Christ. He calls us to become a part of this life. He calls us into His offering and sacrifice. We go to Calvary to embrace that love in the flesh that dies so that we too may live through His dying love.He calls us to enter into death. He calls us beyond death into Resurrection and Ascension. To follow him, we must follow the straight line leading to God the Father.
Today we receive ashes on our foreheads. Today we remember that we are limited and finite, we are subject to corruption and decay, like the grass of the field. In acknowledging this reality we are encouraged to repent and believe the Gospel.Therefore, in this Lent let us begin to cultivate the life of faith, hope, and love. Trusting that God will be quick to hear the cries, sighs, and confessions of a contrite heart, let us be nourished on the Word of God. Let us read our Scriptures with greater zeal to learn. Let us partake of the Sacrament with a deeper desire to be filled with the real presence of God’s wisdom, power and love.
Remember the opening words of T. S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday.” Because I do not hope to turn again…. He hopes not to turn back and into a world of sin, illusion, falsehood, and wrong. His poem repeats the penitent’s plea: Let my cry come unto thee. We pray that our turning is towards God in Jesus Christ today. We pray that we shall no longer turn to right hand nor to the left, but towards Jesus that we might be taken onto the straight road of His pilgrimage to the Father. We pray that we may become a part of this life that alone can be a pure and spotless offering to God the Father.
Let us follow Jesus to his Cross and beyond, praying with Bishop Andrewes:
Lord I have sinned
But I am ashamed,
And I turn from my wicked ways,
And I return unto my heart,
And with all my heart I return unto Thee,
And seek thy face
And pray unto Thee saying,
I have sinned, I have done amiss, I have dealt wickedly,
I know, O Lord, the plague of my heart:
And behold I turn unto Thee
With all my heart
And with all my strength.
And now, O Lord, from thy dwelling place
And from the throne of the glory of thy kingdom in heaven,
Hear therefore the prayer and supplication of thy servant,
And forgive thy servant
And heal his soul.