Under Starter’s Orders: Ash Wednesday Joy

Benedictine Joy

I don’t see how I could ever have been anything but a Benedictine since I’ve always instinctively seen Lent as a time of joy (cf RB 49). Unfortunately, that has led to my making some big mistakes. I tease those who regard Lent as gloomily penitential (i.e. a hardship to be endured) or complain about some aspect of life they consider ‘Lenten’ (e.g. lockdown restrictions). I should remember that many people take words at face value and do, indeed, have a negative view of what Lent is. For them, Lent is all about giving up something loved, taking on something unpleasant, and being nasty to ourselves. If that is our own view of Lent, we shall end up being nasty to everyone, not just ourselves, and our experience will be anything but fruitful!

A Joyful Beginning

Please take a look at the little boy in the photograph. He doesn’t know what lies before him any more than we know what to expect this Lent, but he is cheerful and living in the moment. His focus is not himself but something, more probably someone, beyond himself. That is the secret of Ash Wednesday joy. We are at the beginning of a journey, an experience, that will lead us to Easter and the Risen Christ. We are, as they say in the racing world, under starter’s orders. How could that be anything but joyful? Thomas Merton was of similar mind: ‘Ash Wednesday is full of joy…The source of all sorrow is the illusion that of ourselves we are anything but dust.’ Our dust isn’t negligible. It is, after all, shot through with ‘immortal diamond’ as Hopkins said; but it is given to us, a gift we receive with glad hearts. Let us receive Ash Wednesday with glad hearts, too.


17 thoughts on “Under Starter’s Orders: Ash Wednesday Joy”

  1. Thank you for these wise words. A lovely illustration of beginning this journey with joy and keeping a focus on the beyond.

    Too often we can overlook that Lent exists in relationship to Easter. This creates an imbalance. It is the light of Easter that illuminates the pathways of Lent.

  2. Thank you. My heart resonates with yours in this view of Lent.
    The joy of this season is this graced walk with our Lord, receiving His instruction, and encouragement, to allow Him to re-form us, transform us into wholeness, into union with Himself.
    Grace and Peace +

  3. My grandson is one today. Like the boy in your photo he loves life, enjoying everything that comes along. He can’t worry or be anxious about Covid as he knows nothing about it. He is surrounded by love and care. We can’t be with him today but will see him on FaceTime. He has been such a happy beacon of joy for the whole family during the pandemic.

  4. As I grew up, Lent was a time to give up something…..candy, cookies, TV. At the end of Lent I started over with all the things is gave up. As I got older Lent t became a 40 day retreat of renewal. So rather than give up up something Lent became a time of change. What I would give up was something I wanted to change in my life, something I would continue when Lent was over.

  5. I’ve always struggled with lent and Easter. Most Easters were on holiday in Ireland in the eighties and very dissimilar to the post Vatican 2 emphasis in my parish church. Since a traumatic car accident I also find the liturgy pre resurrection too much….

  6. This is just lovely to read again and what a joyful photo. Lent is a wonderful time of the year – and today’s Gospel readings always make me smile… and then think deeply about Jesus’s time on earth and what He had to contend with. God Bless you Digitatum and all your nuns and helpers. Thank you for all you are doing

  7. I completely agree. I am just realizing this at age 64. I intend to open myself up to God’s love and let God work in me to God’s end. It was amazing this morning to wake up and experience God’s love.

  8. Amen, dear Sister Catherine. Our Saviour’s forty days in the wilderness is mirrored very much in the Lord’s Prayer. Leading us not into temptation and away from evil but preparing us for the pain and miracle of Easter, the triumph of good over evil and the eternity of God’s love for us all.
    God bless and care for you.

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