Ashes to New Life: Ash Wednesday

Written by Nikki Pereira
Illustrations by Francine Ho

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that we as Catholics and disciples of Christ are called to enter into. During Lent, we also enter into a season of preparation for Easter, for the Resurrection of Christ!

But what is the season of Lent really about? And what can we learn from this season?

‘Now, now – it is the Lord who speaks – come back to me with all your heart,
fasting, weeping, mourning.’ (Joel 2:12)

God’s invitation to us in this season of Lent is simple but sure. As we hear in the First Reading for Ash Wednesday, God’s invitation to us in this season of Lent is simple but sure – to come back to Him with all our heart.

In my own reflection, I was prompted to ponder more deeply on this invitation from God. During this season of preparation, we are called to commit to the Lenten observances of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in our personal way. These Lenten observances are spiritual exercises or disciplines that help us to grow in discipleship and deepen our faith.While we know that these observances help bring us closer to God, perhaps the invitation for us is to ponder more deeply on how they bring us closer to God.

Prayer draws us into our own sacred space where we can be with the Lord, close enough for Him to speak deeply into our hearts and lives. In prayer, we begin to hear God’s voice more clearly and learn to recognise His voice amidst the many others in our lives. Through fasting, we learn how to depend fully on the grace and providence of God. We fast not for the purpose of suffering, but to learn to live on the grace of God. Our fasting is also an act of repentance that teaches us to strip away the excesses of our lives – unhelpful habits, sin, unforgiveness – to accept God’s merciful love and forgiveness. Fasting also teaches us, in a very tangible way, how to say “no” in order that we may freely say “yes” to what God desires to give us. In almsgiving, we learn to step out beyond ourselves to love our fellow brothers and sisters, putting their needs above our own. Be it through donating money or goods, or giving of our time to be with others, almsgiving teaches us to practise Christian charity and to witness to the humble and selfless love of Christ.

At this point, you may still be wondering how Lent and our Lenten observances bring us closer to God and prepare us for Easter. Very simply, Lent teaches us to be intentional disciples who desire to conform to Christ, and to share in His life. As St Paul writes, So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor 5:17). Don’t we all long to be like the resurrected Christ, and to have a share in the Resurrected life?

We are privileged as disciples of Christ to know with certainty that the Resurrection awaits us at Easter, and that death does not have the final say. But often, we find ourselves unprepared to celebrate and participate in the Resurrection life that Christ promises us. Perhaps our hearts and minds have been fixated on everything but Christ and the new life He promises us at Easter. 

But take heart, my brothers and sisters, for the season of Lent is gifted to us precisely because Christ desires to teach us to conform to Him. From our words, actions, and deeds, Christ is transforming us to be more and more like Him through our Lenten observances. 

As Christians, we are invited to “strive to be “imitators of God as beloved children, and walk in love” by conforming their (our) thoughts, words and actions to the “mind…which is yours in Christ Jesus,” and by following his example.” (CCC1694). How beautiful it is that we have this gift of Lent to prepare for Easter and the Resurrection of Christ, as we learn and grow to be disciples who desire to imitate Christ in all his ways.

Brothers and sisters, as we enter into Lent this year, I pray that we may all desire wholeheartedly to conform ourselves to Christ. As we commit to our own acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, let us look forward in hope of the promise of the Resurrection and new life at Easter!

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