By Fr. Roy Cimagala
With Ash Wednesday, we enter a new season of Lent. In spite of the gloom and austerity usually associated with it, there's actually something new and bright to it. That's because Lent involves a certain dying to ourselves so we can be born again in Christ.
That's the plain truth about Lent. All the sacrifices, mortifications and penance, the fasting and abstinence, are meant to cure us of our old man so we can be a new man in Christ. (cfr Eph 4,22-24)
Let's not forget that Christ's redemptive sacrifice would not be complete without his resurrection. The whole Lenten season, with its epicenter on Good Friday, would be meaningless without Easter Sunday. Lent cannot be but end in the joy of Easter. It has to show the passage from defeat to triumph, from death to life everlasting.
Lent should put our full attention to the necessity of the Christ's Cross in our life. It is what re-creates us. It perfects the precarious condition of our first creation, when we only knew how to enjoy the good but would not know what to do when we get into the ways of evil.
The Cross brings us to Christ. “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mt 16,24) This is actually a formula we should always engrave in our hearts.
The Cross teaches us the true and complete ways of love. We often have our own ideas of love that are usually sweet and sugary, but actually incomplete, even twisted and detached from its true source and pattern.
The Cross extends the dimensions of our life, going beyond our natural limits so it can merge with God's own life. We are meant for this. We have been designed for this.
Lent reminds us that we need to weep and mourn somehow. We tend to get so absorbed with our earthly affairs and concerns, dancing to their twists and turns, that we forget we need to be with God. We have to acknowledge our need for purification and conversion.
That is why in the first reading of the Mass for Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, we are told, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning…” (Joel 2,12)
Yes, we have to remember this invitation of God to us. We have to go back to him with our whole heart that would first need to be purified through fasting, weeping and mourning. And the second reading, from the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, tells us “now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation.” (6,2)
This liturgical season of Lent highlights a basic need, that of conversion, from the inmost part of our being, our heart and mind, to the most social and global dimension of our life.
This is the be-all and end-all of Lent, supposed to be a permanent feature in our consciousness, not to serve as a wet blanket, but rather as a stimulus for us to return to the orbit proper to us. It's like a corrective maintenance for us.
We have to be wary of the many factors, especially in our current culture and world environment, that tend to weaken our awareness of this need, and even to distort and annul it.
We have been warned so many times before by saints and Church leaders that our sense of sin down the ages has been quite skewed and left out of sync with our faith in God's plan for us.
Directly said, we need conversion because we have fallen away from our God, our Creator and Father. Yes, it's time to remind ourselves that we come from God, not just from dust, and that we are meant to live our life with him and to return to him.