As “cradle” Catholics we are beginning to feel that yearly sense of dread. It begins to set in somewhere after we leave that last parade or eat that last piece of king cake. Maybe it starts a little earlier than that for you. Perhaps you don’t experience it until the early morning of Ash Wednesday. Regardless of when it sets in, we all know it.
Lent is coming.
In the Old Testament, it was a common practice for the people who were in mourning to give an outward sign of their inner struggle. Some cultures still observe this by wearing black or darkened clothes for a prescribed period. It was also common for people to show an outward sign of repentance as well. People would customarily sit in ashes or cover themselves with them to show loss or sadness. Ashes were typically associated with pain, loss, and suffering.
Lent is a time of the realization that our sin has created a sense of loss and pain in our lives. On Ash Wednesday we come together as a church to announce our desire for conversion and a need for change. We can literally look at each other’s foreheads and see that we are a people in mourning. The beauty of Lent is that God can take our ashes and turn them into something beautiful! Lent isn’t just a time of self improvement. It’s a time of redemption. In praying, fasting, and almsgiving we allow our selfishness to die. What do we get in return? We get a closer relationship with Jesus and victory over sin. We don’t stay in Lent forever. The empty tomb is proof of that.