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Father Muench Says...

Another Lent... another Ash Wednesday

Feb. 10, 2016

By Father William Muench
NCC columnist

We use ashes because they are dirty.  I have often taught this idea when speaking to young children about the ashes on Ash Wednesday. 

My idea was a way to explain to them why we needed to do something to remember to do something for Lent.  We need a way to remember that Lent is about doing something as a program for repenting our sins and changing our lives.

As a reminder and also a dedication to do something for Lent, we put dirty old ashes on our foreheads.  I tell them it might be a great idea to leave the ashes on our foreheads all during the time of Lent. 

Most of the kids usually don’t like that idea – except for some messy little boys.

I realize that in Biblical times a person would drop ashes over his head, as a sign of sinfulness and as a penance for sin.  This was a true act of humility.  This action was to show others – as well as himself – that he recognized his sinfulness.

So, the ashes became an act of repentance and also an action to dedication to change his life.  He accepted the ashes as a true readiness for seeking conversion to a new life.

This is, of course, the way we begin our time of conversion like Lent.  This is the reason we accept the ashes on Ash Wednesday. 

We begin the Lenten prayer by calling to mind just who we are.  Our Lenten program is then a time for planning a conversion to a better life.  

Easter become the goal – for each of us to become a new person in the spirit of Christ’s resurrection. So, here we go again – another Lent – another Ash Wednesday.  You have been here before.  You know all about Lent, all the rules and opportunities. 

My advice is to do something – do something special – a bit of mortification that leads to self-control and conversion.  Make your Lenten mortification hurt a bit and be specific with your Lenten penance.  Do something that will bring you to a new life at Easter.

This week I have been reading a little book by Father Richard Rohr, “What the Mystics Know.”  It is good stuff.  As I was reading, I was caught by a statement that sort give a real purpose for a Lenten goal.  Father Rohr writes this: “Christian maturity is the ability to joyfully live in an imperfect world.”  So, a good goal for Lent will be to grow in Christian maturity, so that I can live joyfully.

I think that developing Christian maturity begins with prayer and suffering.  Lent is a perfect time because Lent is about suffering and prayer. A good Lent demands that I find a time for silence for some additional prayer. 
For me, that means turning off the television and turning it off often, maybe for a whole day or two.  It is such a temptation when I have little to do. It so clogs up my brain and keeps the Lord out of my thoughts.

Mass is always the best prayer during the week as well as on Sunday.  The Blessed Eucharist gives me a real powerful step on this road to Christian maturity.  The Lord knows the best way to reach us. Then there is a bit of suffering – doing something as a mortification – doing something to build up self-control.  I don’t know about you but I always find myself forgetting that it is Lent and what I have decided to do.  And yet when I get into the swing of Lent, it certainly is a constant test of my self-control.  I must confess to you that I do cheat sometimes and then I have to get back into the program.  It is such a good program – I know only too well that it will be good for me.

One more quote from Father Richard about suffering for Jesus: 
“Jesus told the first disciples, “you do not know what you are asking.  Until you drink of the cup that I must drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I will be immersed in” (Mark 10:38), you really do not know what I am talking about.  You have nothing to say.  It is not that we have a message and then suffer for it.  It is much more the opposite: We suffer, come through it transformed, and then we have a message!”   

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