By Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond, Clarion Herald Commentary
On Ash Wednesday, we will begin our 40-day Lenten journey. During this time, God will call us to look carefully at ourselves and identify our weakness and sin. We are reminded that God loves us even in our weakness and calls us to a change of heart to draw closer to him.
As we begin Lent, we look at our society and identify ways in which we are tempted to stray from the way of the Lord. That does not mean we are called to take a lie detector test – which supposedly detects small changes in our heart rate, blood pressure and breathing when we are nervous about making a truthful statement – but we are called to be very honest with ourselves, even if that may cause us to feel somewhat uncomfortable.
We do this in prayer.
We are asked to have a conversation with God and with no one else. We go before the Lord to admit our weakness and sin and our need to change. I dare say that for each and every one of us, there is discomfort and anxiety in that.
We must try to hear ever more clearly what God says in his message in our first reading on Ash Wednesday from the Book of the prophet Joel: “Return to me with your whole heart.” You and I must look honestly at ourselves and go before the Lord in a spirit of humility to admit that there is one area of our life, anything in our relationships with God or others, that truly needs to change.
I suggest that we choose one particular part of our lives. I can tell you that when I think of what needs to change in my life, I could name six or seven things. I suggest for the Lenten journey we choose only one, because we only have six weeks! We want to look at an action or attitude that brings darkness to us, and perhaps to others, and ask the Lord to help us undergo that change of heart.
Once you and I have identified what it is that we believe God is calling us to change, then, and only then, can we choose a penance that would help us experience conversion.
For some people, their penance is to give up something – maybe a certain food or drink, maybe giving up talking about others or judging others or spending less time on social media. For other people, these next 40 days may be an opportunity to do something extra – spending more time in personal prayer, praying the Way of the Cross, spending time in the adoration chapel, attending daily Mass or reaching out in charity to another.
Whatever we choose as a penance, that penance should be directly related to that action or attitude in our life that we believe God is calling us to change.
I know for me as a kid, it was a custom in our home to give up sweets, and that was a noble thing to do. But, looking back, I’m not sure that that had anything to do with choosing an area of life that needed conversion. Once we see what God is asking us to repent of, then we choose a penance that will help us to do so.
In choosing our penance, we don’t want to just say after the 40 days of Lent: “Oh, well, I did that for 40 days.” That’s not the purpose. As we go through this Lenten journey and approach Easter, we want to be able to affirmatively answer the question, “Have I changed, even if it’s just a little bit? Have I changed?”
The ashes we will receive on our forehead are ashes that come from the blessed palms that we used last Palm Sunday. As I share ashes with you and put them on your forehead, I will say, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” But, I am humbled because I, too, am a sinner, and I need to repent and to believe more firmly in the Gospel. So, it is together that we seek God’s mercy.
One of the ways we can make our Lenten journey fruitful is to go to confession. Confessions will be available in all of our parishes on three consecutive Wednesdays of Lent – March 27, April 3 and April 10 – from 5 to 6:30 p.m. I give thanks to all of our priests for their ministry of healing and mercy.
There is nothing that God cannot forgive. Nothing. We may say, “Oh, God, you can’t forgive.” But God says, “I do forgive because I am merciful.” He will walk with us during these 40 days.
Questions for Archbishop Aymond may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.