Photo by Gini George.

Ash Wednesday, this year beginning on 22 February, is the gateway to the season of Lent. The anointing with ashes, which is the key element of this day’s ritual, is a reminder of our responsibility as individuals and as communities to keep alive the discipleship that our baptism committed us to. The ritual of baptism also involves tracing a cross on our foreheads, albeit with fragrant oils rather than burnt ashes.

The ash etched onto our foreheads on Ash Wednesday is grittier and dirtier and less fragrant than the oils of baptism. This ‘gritty’ image is a ready depiction of our lives today, as Lent is a call for us to get rid of some of the grit that is preventing us from fully living our baptismal potential.

Lent is a journey that takes us to the key moment of our Christian faith, namely the remembrance of the death and rising of Jesus at Easter. On this 40-day journey, we are invited to reflect on our lives and seek ways to clear some of the embedded grit that has become part of our daily lives. As individuals and as Christians across the world, this shared focus provides us with time to sharpen our focus and uncover what could be different… for us as individuals and for us as a body of people with a common focus on the One who came to show us the Way.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are the traditional ‘items’ to carry on this journey which can support us to refocus our lens as we move forward.

For some, perhaps taking more time for prayer, or for others, focusing differently during these days in spending time with our God will be the path taken.

In our Christian tradition, fasting is a means of seeking spiritual growth, of enhancing our inner spirit. It is a way to say ‘no’ to that which is focused on ourselves and a means to be open to ‘yes’ to that which is for others.

In light of this, Pope Francis (Ash Wednesday 2017) suggests the following possible fasts… perhaps more challenging than giving up chocolate!

Fast from hurtful words and speak kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and have trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words; be silent so you can listen.

Almsgiving gives us the opportunity to cultivate a spirit of generosity, sharing what we have with others who have less. It has generally involved giving money to Catholic charities or other good causes. We can take this concept even deeper by using our time and our talents to make a difference to the lives of others.

Whatever we do in Lent should just seep unobtrusively into our world and our relationships, and yet it will also transform us with lingering ‘fragrance that comes from knowing Christ Jesus’ (2 Cor 2:14) and our attempts to live out this knowledge.Verna Holyhead sgs ”Ashes to Breaking Waters” John Garrett Publishing 1997

Mary Hemmings
Josephite Companions Leadership Team