Ash Wednesday, 2023
“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned,” says the psalmist.
Today we begin the holy season of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the great feast of Easter, when death is conquered and heaven and earth are reconciled. But wait, says the Lord. Not so fast.
First we are told to repent. “Repent” means “to turn away from” or “turn back to the original.” Just how we go about that may look a little different for each of us.
For hundreds of years, we have found guidance in the three ancient pillars of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Many of us already have disciplines of prayer and charitable giving, and we may even train ourselves to abstain from certain foods regularly. So how can we take this to a different level and follow these three practices in meaningful ways during Lent?
I’ll humbly offer a grounding thought. We begin Lent today with imposition of ashes. I was reminded once that Ash Wednesday is the only day in the whole Church year when everyone is touched. So let us start there, brought to this focus in our own bodies. May we pray, fast and give our way through Lent in and from our physical selves. Pray with your body, however that looks for you. Pause and notice any momentary discomfort or pang if you fast. Don’t brush off or move on from that feeling. Our God is an incarnational God, a God of bodies.
We know this from the people we all serve. I think of “Jake,” a young man who moved a few months ago from our area’s largest homeless encampment into a transitional shelter we operate. As with most of our residents, he brought with him many illnesses and physical challenges, compounded by years of deferred medical care and shelter-less existence. Jake’s illnesses caught up to him a few weeks ago and he passed away in his room. It was our privilege to provide a dignified home for Jake’s battered physical frame in his final weeks.
Remember: none of is getting out of here alive. But in our time together, let’s try to really be here. In our Lenten practices, be present to ourselves and to one another. God’s mercy is surely with us.
Scott Cooper is Vice President of Mission for Catholic Charities Eastern Washington, Diocese of Spokane. He sings in the choir at Sacred Heart Parish.