Isn't it amazing that people still flock to Catholic churches around the world on Ash Wednesday to hear God's startling words from chapter three of the Book of Genesis, "you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Gen 3:19)?!
In the Scriptures, the original context of these words is the fall of the human race: Tempted to "become like gods" by the evil spirit, who is himself envious of their intimacy with the Lord, the first man and woman "take and eat" in direct opposition to God's one fundamental law. In so doing, human beings become the authors of death itself and the sources of their own suffering, just as the Lord God had forewarned.
However, before naming these consequences of their actions and reminding them of their new found mortality, the Lord God asks the fundamental question which should launch us into Lent even today, "Where are you?" (Gen 3:9). It is not a question of physical or geographic location, of course, but one of profound spiritual and personal significance.
Where am I on my journey of life at the start of Lent 2015? Where am I in relationship to God, who longs for a greater intimacy with me personally? How does the Lord God want to use this Lent to reshape me into his masterpiece?
It seems unlikely that the scores of people who are drawn to Ash Wednesday simply want to hear a reminder of their own frailty and mortality. No, it seems much more likely that they long to hear an invitation to reclaim their full dignity and their God-given immortality. Just as Adam and Eve once walked in intimacy with our Creator, so Lent seems to offer the real possibility of a renewed relationship with God. We sense a promise of divine assistance in answering that troubling question, "Where are you?"; we sense the chance for real change and the hope of lasting health.
Of course, all of this requires that we strive to identify and uproot sin in our daily lives. It also means that we must walk the path toward purity of intention, thanks to the grace of the Holy Spirit, in order to do everything for the greater glory of God.
The question of whether we will really lean into Lent this year, however, ultimately hinges on the question of whether will we accept Christ's invitation to reverse the fate seemingly set in chapter three of Genesis. For Jesus gives one great commandment the night before he heads to the Cross, which is not only the ultimate tree of the knowledge of good and evil but also the tree of life: Giving thanks, he tells us to "take and eat," thus making us one with God once again.
This is the source of our strength for the journey; this is the way that we might love as he loved. So, let's look for the ways that Christ is walking with us this Lent. Let's open our minds and hearts to hear the Scriptures anew. Let's invite the Lord to stay with us, and let's ask that he be made known to us "in the breaking of the bread" (Lk 24:35).
Remember, we are created in his divine image, and to this divine image we shall return--if only we dare to say Amen.
Pax et bonum,
P.S. For some helpful web-based and video resources on your journey this Lent, check out:
- USCCB resource page on the theme of "Raise up. Sacrifice. Offer."; it includes Holy Father Francis' Lenten message for 2015.
- Cardinal Dolan's two-minute reflection on navigating our way through Lent.
- Skit guys' 40 Days with Jesus with profiles and portraits of key Gospel figures as they journey with Jesus toward Jerusalem.
- Finally, an entertaining and inspiring video version of St. John Paul II Singing "Dynamite" (it is worth the three minutes for the punch line, "perhaps I love you more"!).