Monday, February 23, 2009

The Beginning of Lent-- Ash Wednesday

This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. I know, I can't believe it either. It seems like we just put away our Christmas decorations and now we are already heading into Lent.

Last night I explained to my daughter about what was going to happen in Mass that day. She will be attending Mass with her kindergarten class and the rest of the school to receive ashes on her forehead. I bet if you were to ask any Catholic why we receive ashes on our foreheads, they may be hard pressed to give an answer to that, at least not all would know. It's just something we do, they might say. Sometimes we do things out of habit and don't really reflect on the reason WHY we do it, which is why I dedicated this post to that topic.

We will receive the Sign of the Cross on our forehead as a visible reminder that we are marked for Christ, that we came from dust and to dust we shall return. It is both a sign of our mortality and a sign of our sinfulness, thus our need for a Saviour. This day is not a Holy Day of Obligation, however, for those who do get ashes, it is considered an act of humility to wear them all day. It is through true humility that we begin to learn true repentance.

Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence. Fasting and abstinence are a form of penance. All Catholics of good health between the ages of 18 and 60 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which means we are allowed only one complete meal and two smaller meals, with no food in between. Catholics over the age of 14 are required to abstain from eating meat on this day and all Fridays during Lent.

Lent is a time for evaluating how we are living out our lives as Christians. This is why at the beginning of Lent, we are encouraged to set specific spiritual goals and ways to achieve them. For instance, it is a common practice for many Catholics to attend daily Mass during Lent. There are many ways to increase our spiritual life, and most Catholics, in striving for greater spiritual growth together in a penitential spirit will give up some of their leisure time in favor of doing one or more of the following: Stations of the Cross; daily meditations; frequent reception of the Eucharist; going to Reconciliation; praying the Rosary; Bible study; attending the parish Mission; giving alms; and performing works of corporal and spiritual mercy, among others.

Many people give something up as a penance. It can be something that they enjoy or feel too attached to, or something that will be missed so that each time they think of it, it can serve as a way to redirect their thoughts to the reason for the abstinence, and to help break our dependence on things that may lead us astray.

In the past, I have given up things like eating out, chocolate, soda, favorite television shows, computer time and the like. It had to be something that I would really miss and therefore would be reminded repeatedly each day. Many times, I found that by the end of Lent, my attachment was completely broken and some things I never went back to. I gave up my soap opera many years ago and have never watched it since. Sometimes this is a lesson in what we think we need vs. that which we truly can go without, and believe me, there are a lot of things we all think we need that we can go without. Sometimes it is a lesson in how much we take things for granted and how blessed we are. It also makes me think of those less fortunate than myself, which is why I also give alms in addition to my sacrifice.

There is so much to say about Lent, but I will leave it here for today. Here is an article to get you started thinking about Lent.

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