In recent years, I’ve grown to appreciate Ash Wednesday much more than I ever did as a young adult. You see, I used to think that Ash Wednesday was just a day when the super pious would walk around with dust on their foreheads to remind everyone else how super pious they are. But once I started receiving ashes myself, and especially when I began distributing ashes as a deacon, I came to realize how wrong I was. From my new vantage point, I see people from every walk and circumstance of life – the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the super-religious and those who may just be hedging their bets – humbly submitting themselves to the sobering rite where we remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. I see people who are trying – trying to be humble; trying to connect with God; trying to change for the better. Lent is exactly that: a trying time.
During Lent we’re called to conversion. We’re called to change – to set aside our bad habits, repent, and believe the Gospel. But truly believing the Gospel isn’t simply a matter of words; it’s a way of living. To believe in the Gospel, we need to live the Gospel values. That means we need to place ourselves in proper orientation with God our creator and at the service of our fellow man. In other words, we need to love God and love our neighbor. Through the disciplines of prayer, fasting and alms-giving, Lent offers us a special opportunity to try a little harder to be a little better in our relationships with God and our neighbor.
Lent also offers us the opportunity to acknowledge that others are trying, too. Let’s face it, It’s a lot easier to be judgmental than trying to figure out another person’s circumstances, motivations and intentions. So we spend a good part of our day angry: angry at the slow driver who made me late for work; angry at the store clerk who once again forgot to double-bag my groceries; angry at the guy who hogged the stepper at the gym. It’s easy to assume that others are being the way they are just to tick us off. But maybe, just maybe, that slow driver was bringing her newborn home from the hospital for the first time; or that store clerk has special needs; or that guy on the stepper was recently told that if he didn’t lose weight soon, he’d have serious health issues. Maybe, they’re all just trying, too.