It’s Ash Wednesday, and we are entering into the season of Lent, a time to grow in relationship with God, to seek forgiveness and holiness, and to consider how we individually and corporately and cooperate with God for a world more in alignment with God’s desires for our community. Today is a day of repentance: a day to consider our mortality, our limits, our need for God, and our need to be honest with God in everything that we do.
For me, Ash Wednesday centers around three key ideas:
- I try to take an honest look at myself in relationship to God and to others, and consider how am I sorrowful for where I fall short, or where I am part of a community that falls short.
- I ask, “What do I need from God this Lent?” and then express my desire in prayer. It helps me to know how to fast, pray and give if I understand what I need.
- I ask: what more in my life do I need to turn over and surrender to God so that I can also respond to God’s call for me—even if life takes me in unexpected directions?
Every Lent is different. This Lent comes in the midst of a tumultuous political year, in the midst of a nation grappling with—or sometimes failing to grapple with—systematic racism, unemployment, the pandemic, perhaps grief or illness. In each of our individual lives, things are probably not quite the same as last year, regarding the shape of our relationships or work, our hopes, struggles, and our fears. God wants to know all of these and to bring us to greater growth.
Ash Wednesday begins with repentance and sorrow. Although we rightly resist an approach to religion or spirituality that is too focused on guilt, there is a real place for sorrow, and knowing and repenting of where we have hurt other people, or perhaps failed ourselves. We also know that God always looks at us in love, and so our sorrow is not met by judgment but by loving embrace that invites, encourages, and by a God who even shares in our hopes and struggles. So even our sorrow and repentance takes place in the context of love and hope.
If you are looking for resources for Lent, I am hoping to post again more regularly, after an extremely busy few months at work, and here are some other resources:
An Ignatian Guide to Lent features short, engaging videos to guide you through Lent, on lots of different topics, ranging from fasting, to temptation, to Ignatian approaches to prayer. (There is even one in there from me, though I am most interest in hearing what everyone else has to say!)
IgnatianSpirituality.com has several different Lenten options from which to choose, including a read along of my new book on forgiveness, where you can read just a little every day or every week, and connect on social media with others. At the same link, you can also find a way to sign up for a daily email from Living Lent Daily, or do my friend Tim Muldoon’s excellent Ignatian workout for Lent!
Or, try Boston College’s Michael Simone SJ, who offers a weekly reflection, plus one for Ash Wednesday, each Sunday in Lent.
If any of that is too complicated, maybe it is a good time to go “back to the basics”, and reflect briefly on Scripture every day (see the USCCB site here), pray the Examen once a day (see Mark Thibodeux’s how to here), or go to daily Mass either in person if it is safe in your part of the world, or online where we can also still partake of spiritual sustenance in the Eucharist.
Whatever you choose, now is the time for us to fast, pray, and to give generously to others in need: the poor, the hungry, homeless, and those captive in any way.
I pray for a blessed Lent for each one of my dear readers.