Ash Wednesday, marked for most of us with a smudge of ashes on the forehead (or in the case of nuns, sprinkled atop the veil), is a reminder of our creation ‘from the dust of the earth’, a symbol of the cleansing from sin we hope to undergo. Ash plays so many roles in our lives, both figurative and literal: it nourishes our crops, is a component of some of our soaps and is the stuff our hopes turn to when they are disappointed. Ash Wednesday, however, is more than all these: a day apart, a day of prayer and fasting, a day of returning to the Lord. The ashes we use were burned from last year’s palms. They remind us that the victory is already won, although we have not yet attained its fullness in our lives.
St Benedict in his Rule prescribes that Vigils, the greatest prayer of the Divine Office, should always begin with the same invitatory, Psalm 94, and its urgent, ‘TODAY, if you would hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ That really is the key to making a good Lent: do not harden your heart, listen out for the voice of the Lord and follow his promptings. It isn’t complicated or difficult, but, like Naaman bathing in the Jordan, its simplicity sometimes affronts our sense of what ought to be. Perhaps we all need to become simpler this Lent. How else shall we turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel?
May your Lent be blessed.
Books of the Bible for Lent
Later today I hope to distribute Lent books to those who asked after I had gone offline last night.