Prepare Ye, the Way of the Lord!
Catholics are very familiar with the powerful symbols and meaning of Ash Wednesday, celebrated this year on February 10. The reception of ashes is an ancient and powerful declaration of mortality, of sinfulness, of our need for God. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday utters bold cries such as “rend your hearts!” and “be reconciled with God.” What’s the purpose of this annual rite?
The deepest meaning of Lent is not found in repentance, meditations on death and sin, but in Easter Sunday. For Ash Wednesday launches the Church into its greatest liturgical season that reaches a highpoint in the joyous “Alleluias!” of Easter Sunday. Six more weeks of intense reflection on the meaning of Easter follow, concluding with the great celebration of Pentecost. In all, the Church devotes something beyond three months to preparation for and reflection on Easter.
This glorious time, graced with the disappearance of Winter and the welcome coming of Spring, speaks to the heart of Christian faith. In the Resurrection of Jesus, everything changed. In that deep mystery where death’s cold grip was broken, the power of Divine Love stood revealed in its reliability and invincibility. It is the Resurrection that makes Christianity possible for, without the Risen One, the broken and fearful disciples certainly would have drifted back to their boats and nets and abandoned their call to be fishers of people! This graced season of preparation frames the preparation time for baptismal candidates, prepared in today’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. This practice reminds us of the most ancient Christian practice to baptize only on Easter Saturday Night when the Resurrection was first proclaimed.
Begun on a day characterized by powerful calls to repentance and renewal of heart, the coming liturgical seasons of Lent and Easter invite us to sink deep into the great work of God at the heart of our faith – the Resurrection of Jesus. True repentance prepares our hearts to welcome the joy and hope that are Easter’s most welcome gifts.
How do we do this? Fasting? Dieting? Exercise? Good works for others? These are all wonderful practices with excellent church reputations. But how about something fit for our times? How about choosing to renounce negativity?
Have you ever noticed how a critical word, a gripe, a moan or complaint, sows a dark seed of sorrow in your heart and sucks all the fresh air out of the room you are in? What would happen if we were to deliberately refrain from all that? Would we have anything to talk about??? Could we be surprised to learn that negativity breeds results that wear its clothes, just as does hope and positive expectation?
How best to become Easter people, radiant with the power of Resurrection? This Lenten “rending of our hearts” would create some room, sweep away the dust of bitterness, the litter of resentment, and dispel the dark clouds of negativity and gloom – so that there would be room for the fragile shoots of Hope. Then, the Risen Morningstar that never sets would ever shine in our hearts and, through our living, in our world. Alleluia!
Fr. Jim Thoman, CP, died in 2010. His timeless message for Lent encourages us all to become “Easter People.”