Yesterday, I arrived at work with ashes on my forehead. This is the traditional Catholic beginning of Lent, Ash Wednesday, exactly 46 days before Easter (including Sundays). It serves as a reminder that we are all mortal, “For you were made from dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Genesis-3:19.) But before I could explain to my questioning co-worker what was on my forehead, one of the customers sitting nearby stepped in.
“Oh, he’s Catholic. It means he’s celebrating Ash Wednesday.”
I smiled and nodded, but before I could get another word in, my co-worker asked what Ash Wednesday was. I was about to explain, when Customer interrupted.
“It’s a day when they celebrate all the saints and their history.”
I could only stare at her, quite bemused. Actually, of all the things Lent and Ash Wednesday encompass, the saints and their history is not the most prominent one. I then finally was able to explain that it marked the beginning of Lent, which was 40 days before Easter (not including Sundays) and in which we pray, fast, and give alms in order to prepare ourselves for the Resurrection of Christ. My co-worker then asked why we used ashes. As I was about to explain the above quote from Genesis, Customer interrupted…again.
“Because they wear the ashes for 40 days to remember their dead loved ones.”
Not at all! Of course, I didn’t say that, which is why it’s not in quotation marks. But as I explained the real reason we wear ashes (see above quote), I couldn’t help but think of how misrepresented the season of Lent really is in our modern society.
Hopefully, most of you readers already have a decent understanding of Lent. I will not be delving too far into what exactly Lent is, but rather why we celebrate Lent the way we do. (And don’t worry, this will be in parts. I know you have better things to do than read this blog…at least, I certainly hope so.)
This first post will be on what seems to confuse society the most:
All kinds of people of different religions pray, and many of these same people are charitable and give a great deal of time and money to those who need it, and we thank God for that. But there are very few people in this world today who truly understand the importance of fasting. These are not definitive teachings or insightful words of wisdom, but merely some thoughts I had while reflecting on fasting.
First and foremost, fasting is a way of emptying ourselves. It is humbling to diminish our egos by sacrificing something important to us. By making this sacrifice through fasting, we are saying by our actions, “I am not greater than this good, and so I willingly give it up for the good of humility.” Of course, this can be corrupted if our actions say, “Hey, look at me, I’m giving up water! Look how holy I am!” Yes. Holy. And sick. Or, at least, very, very soon to be. I’m not sure who said it first, but I have heard it many times. “If your cup’s already full, then it’s bound to overflow.” Though we do want our hearts to overflow with Christ’s love, we do not want our egos to overflow with our own pride. By emptying ourselves of material or worldly things, we allow ourselves to make room for the love of Christ given to us by His sacrifice on the cross. That is perhaps the most prominent reason for fasting, and it is a sufficient answer in itself. But, for those of you who are never satisfied with one answer (I too am one of you), here are some more reasons.
Fasting is also a way of penance. Penance for our sins. We recognize that we have done great wrongs in our life, and that truly we are not worthy of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. And so, we do penance for these sins by disciplining ourselves. Ironically enough, it takes great discipline to discipline oneself. But that is the idea. In giving up something, we are being disciplined. But we are also learning discipline. Talk about killing two birds with one stone. It is an excellent tool for building up fortitude and temperance, and consequently a deeper and stronger spiritual life.
Finally, my third thought, which actually kind of ties in to the second one. But due to the length of this blog (and the fact that I still have school to do), I will leave you on a cliffhanger. Tomorrow, I shall begin posting a series of blogs concerning how this third element of fasting works in our lives.
Until then, God Bless, and may you have a productive Lent filled with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Blest.