If there ever is a day of the year when you can spot Catholics at a glance, Ash Wednesday it is. It is the one time when Catholics literally wear their faith on their foreheads. On that day, the ashes we receive on our foreheads in the shape of a cross serve as an outward sign of our sinfulness and need for penance. The Ashes also symbolize our mortality, a reminder that one day we will die and our bodies will return to dust. Hence the traditional words, “Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”
Although Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, it is a day of fasting and abstinence for Catholics, as is Good Friday. Ash Wednesday calls us with great urgency to reflect on our lives, to do penance for our faults and sins and to reach out to our neighbours who are less fortunate than ourselves. The Church, in her wisdom, asks Catholics to regard the Lenten season as a serious time for spiritual renewal and that we use acts of fast and abstinence as a physical means of spiritual discernment. It really is a time for us to renew the spirit of our baptismal promises - to have a change of heart and become people who do “make a difference” to those around us. This Lent may we all heed the Church’s wisdom and adopt a sincere attitude of renewal in the weeks of Lent that are to follow.
As we in the Church commemorate Ash Wednesday, let us truly begin the season of Lent - a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation for the celebration of Easter. During Lent, we remember Jesus’ forty days in the desert and our responsibility to care for those who today languish in “deserts” of their own.
Pope Francis challenges us to follow the merciful example of God who asks us not to judge or condemn but to offer love and forgiveness instead. During this Lenten season, let us strive to meet the challenge from Pope Francis and grow in compassion for all in need, on our school campuses, in our families and in our Parish communities.