Reflection by: Drew Clary, C.S.C. - Seminarian, Congregation of Holy Cross, 1st Year Professed
Ashes. Penance. Desert. Sacrifice. Sand. Dryness. Love.
It may be easy to think that this is a list of words from which you are supposed to choose the one that doesn’t belong. Most of us probably associate words like these first six with Lent without too much hesitation. But love? What’s love got to do with Lent? Everything.
God loves us. God loves you. And we receive from Him this life and all the ways He gives us to enjoy it and experience His love. A peaceful nature scene, a delicious meal, a symphony orchestra, a beautiful sunset, a great book, a cold glass of beer, an evening shared with friends. All of these are gifts through which God expresses His endless love for us; for you. Love begs a response, and too often our response ends at the gifts without extending beyond to the Giver.
But ultimately these gifts, like the Pharisees’ rewards in today’s Gospel, have only a momentary, passing reward. We mark ourselves with ashes today to remind us from where we came, to where we will return, and that whatever more we have and are in the interim is only thanks to our loving, generous God. Our Lenten practices are not ends in themselves. Nor are they done to make God happier with us or to convince God of our love. That is a pagan understanding of religious practice.
Rather, the Church invites us into these forty days to step away from one or two of the good things God gives us in our lives, to create a little more space to focus on the Giver of our gifts rather than the gifts themselves. Our attempts to create this space and to let God fill it may be as imperfect as we are, but we offer up whatever we can manage and ask the God who loves us – who loves you – to accept it and perfect it so that when Easter comes, there will be a little extra space in our hearts to let Jesus shine through.