“Three cheers for Lent!” It’s unlikely that we’ve ever said that before or known anyone who did, but we ought to welcome, and even joyfully celebrate, this season of the liturgical year that begins today, Ash Wednesday, because Lent is the annual six-week long reminder that it’s never too late to change, never too late to begin again. Nothing is ever hopeless, nothing is beyond repair and redemption, because the God whose love brought us into being continually calls us from death back to life by returning to relationship with him.
To turn to God is to turn to life. To turn away from God is to turn away from life. Lent pivots on these two truths, truths we are all pretty good at denying. Lent reminds us that we are commanded to love God wholeheartedly and our neighbors as ourselves because there is no other path to life. But we frequently live and act as if this were not the case. We become experts at self-sabotage because we develop ways of being that pull us further away from all that is life. We’re miserable. We’re more dead than alive. But after a while we see no way to move from death back to life.
Today’s readings show us that the way back to life is surprisingly simple. The passage from the prophet Joel puts it succinctly: “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart.” In the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul pleads with us, even begs us: “We implore you, in Christ’s name: be reconciled to God!” And our gospel, with its triple warning against performing religious acts in order to be seen, counseling us instead to “go to your room, close your door, and pray to your Father in private,” assures us that in that quiet, intimate moment we shall discover what it means to be fully known and fully loved, and, therefore, fully alive.
That’s wonderful news, news worth celebrating. And so, on this first day of Lent, let the cheering begin!
Paul J. Wadell is Professor Emeritus of Theology & Religious Studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and a member of the Passionist family.