We can all remember our grandparents washing their clothes at the riverside with ashes and water. Ashes on heads on the Wednesday marking the start of Lent, water on feet on Holy Thursday. The carnival masks are very beautiful but they are only good for a day; then follows life with its hard face of reality, the journey along a challenging course involving all men and women and their entire being, from head to foot..
Lent takes us into the desert and as many families know when divested of their masks they find the party is over and they have to fight day after day and often enter into the desert. The desert is symbolic of Lent, an essential part of our lives. However, as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said so effectively: “Every desert, somewhere, hides a well, in every hardship there is the seed of an unexpected resurrection”. It is Easter the ultimate horizon of Lent. The theologian Andrea Grillo writes: “To restore Lent as a festive initiation to the Paschal Mystery is a ‘great undertaking’, which we Roman Catholic Christians, belonging to the second generation after Vatican Council II, have found has been indicated by that great Council as one of the keys to access our ecclesial and spiritual tradition. To set in motion the symbolic mechanism of a festive journey of expectation, preparation and above all initiation to Easter.”
“Convert and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return”, the priests will say as they are spreading the ashes. Faith and humility are necessary to commence the journey of conversion towards Easter; it only needs a financial crisis for many to lose their daily bread, a disease and the joy of life will be wanting. Men and women are dust. And yet that dust, which houses the breath of the Holy Spirit, is still today the best creation of all. The Holy Spirit bursts into our fragility and calls us to an original and ever newer identity. We must act according to the Holy Spirit, with that fragile courage belonging to every baptised person which we see on every page of the Gospel making us new men and women every day.
The Lord, through the Prophet Joel whom we select for the First Reading on Ash Wednesday (Joel 2,16-18) asks us to gather people together, young, old, children, married couples, unmarried couples, immigrants for them to receive the invitation to be reconciled with God, as Saint Paul reminds us in the Second Reading from the Second Letter to the Corinthians (2Cor 5,20-6,2).
In the Gospel, (Mt6,1-6.16-18) Jesus exhorts us take the journey seriously. God also walks and comes towards us and we welcome him with prayer, fasting and charity. These are not individual or private Lenten practices, rather they want to express our hearts which move towards God and towards all men and women, who are, from Easter onwards, our brothers and sisters.
May Lent help us to make our interior and exterior world as the Father’s house where all men and women are brothers and sisters, and not turn it into a marketplace (Jn2,16), where everyone is an enemy and a competitor.