Abbot Damien Toilolo, O.S.B.
Another Ash Wednesday. Another Lent. Another six weeks of penance and sacrifices. Another opportunity for spiritual growth and conversion.
Today Catholics and Christians all around the world will cram into churches; they will elbow their way into a pew and give people dirty looks, in order to receive their ashes. They probably won’t pay much attention to the readings, and even less attention to the homily. Some might even leave before receiving Holy Communion….because all their focus is on ‘getting those’ ashes. Receiving ashes on our heads mean nothing, if our heart is not open to being transformed. The priest can dump all the ashes on a person’s head, but that doesn’t make the person any holier.
The ashes we will receive remind us of our sins and of our death. Why would we want to be reminded of something as depressing as that?
Because it’s only after a good honest reflection on our sins and our mortality that we realize our only recourse is God….our only option is God….our only hope is God…..because we can’t get rid of our sins and we can’t prevent ourselves from dying. Only God can do that. The ashes we receive today ought to remind us not only of our sins, but also of God’s goodness to us.
During Lent, the Church does ask us to reflect on our sins, but to reflect on them in the light of God’s forgiveness. Likewise, to give thought to the fact that we will die….but in light of God’s remedy for death, namely, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Because of His resurrection, we will not remain in the grave, but will rise from the dust and ashes. And it is not because of anything we have done. It is all completely and entirely initiated by God.
As an adult, I came to finally recognize that Lent is a beautiful time of year because it allows us to see the truth of who we are: that we are sinners and that we are forgiven…that we are in the presence of God, and we are also still on our way to Him. Meaning, please be patient with me, “God is not done with me yet.”
Once we are able to prayerfully integrate all the sacrifices and penances and fasting that is asked of us during this season, then we are able to recognize the wisdom and power of God…that He draws us closer to Himself through our sins and our imperfections. Only God can do that. This season of Lent, gives us an opportunity as a Church to reflect on how good God has been and is to us sinners; how patient, kind and merciful He is to us; how He longs for us to be with Him, as He says in the first reading: “Return to me with your whole heart.”
And when we do return to Him with our whole heart, He responds in a way that only God can respond…by giving us not just His heart….but His whole being: body, blood, soul and divinity, in the Eucharist.