Each year on Ash Wednesday, Pope Francis humbly receives ashes on his forehead from a brother priest. Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of people as a reminder of human mortality and as a sign of repentance and contrition. It marks the beginning of the Lenten season. Lent is the time, approximating forty days, of reflection and penance leading up to Easter.
During the season of Lent, we are challenged in a special way to acknowledge our struggles and recognize that we are all sinners and need help in battling our temptations. We are challenged to resist our temptations, especially the temptation to slide through Lent as thoughtlessly and carelessly as possible. We are encouraged to take Lent seriously and acknowledge our own shortcomings, and guard against them.
During this special time in the Church year, we can therefore turn to God and seek renewal in heart, mind, and body through the disciplines of Lent: prayer, almsgiving, and fasting if we are physically able. We can respond to this challenge to live a Christian life and truly turn away from sin and towards the living God. In this Extraordinary Year of Mercy, Pope Francis has called on us to seek God’s mercy by availing ourselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation. He also invited us to extend mercy to a brother or sister or friend or other loved one from whom we may have been alienated for some reason. He encouraged us to go beyond our comfort zones and strive to unite our hearts to the Lord and experience his love and mercy in a very special way as we begin our Lenten journey.
As we reflect on the profound words of Pope Francis, during this season of Lent we are challenged to make a concerted effort to resist the many temptations of this world and allow the Lord to effect a lasting transformation in our hearts and minds.