Ashes – a call to humbly recognize our origins: dust of the earth and the creative love of God. As in death we return to the earth, so we shall return to God. God is our origin and our glorious destiny. Any accomplishments on this earth belong to God, while all failure and sin is solely our responsibility. There is no reason for pride for any human being.
Fire – burns the palms that proclaimed Christ as King on Palm Sunday into the ashes before us today. Marked with these ashes we are reminded of our fundamental mission as Catholics – Proclaim Jesus Christ as King. Lent is a time to personally and communally admit our failures in this mission of proclaiming Christ to the world.
Fire – also represents the Holy Spirit. Fire is an element of transformation. Transformation as conversion means something must yield or die for something new to come forth. Lent is a time to allow the consuming Fire of the Holy Spirit to illuminate our sins. Lent is a time for the Fire of the Holy Spirit to consume all selfishness and division so that the newness of the Risen Christ may bloom forth in each of us and in his Church.
I am reminded of comments attributed to Cardinal Bergolio during the consistory meetings of Cardinals prior to the conclave of 2013 that elected him Pope Francis.
Reference has been made to evangelization. This is the Church’s reason for being: Pope Paul VI speaks of ‘the sweet and comforting joy of evangelizing.’ It is Jesus Christ himself who, from within, impels us.
The Church is called to come out from itself and to go to the peripheries, not just the geographical but also the existential peripheries: those of the mystery of sin, of suffering, of injustice, of ignorance and lack of religion, those of thought and those of every kind of misery.
The evils that, over time, appear in Church institutions have their root in self-referentiality, a kind of theological narcissism. In the book of Revelation, (3:20) Jesus says that he is at the door and calling, and evidently the text refers to him standing outside the door and knocking to be let in. But I sometimes think that Jesus is knocking from the inside, for us to let him out. The self-referential Church presumes to keep Jesus Christ for itself and not to let him out. (The Great Reformer, by Austen Ivereigh, pp. 357-358)
We know Jesus Christ is King and Lord, and nothing can bind him. On the contrary, he is the one who casts out demons. However, we, the members of the Church, are susceptible to the deceptions of the enemy. We are the one’s who can be restricted in proclaiming Christ to the world.
This Lent, set Christ free! Let the Church come to new life. Let the breath of the Holy Spirit flow and fill our lungs as on the day of creation and birth; as on the day of our baptism and confirmation. The Lord is doing something new in the Church! Please, God, let us cooperate.
But, before the Newness – the Fire. First, during this Lent, we must allow ourselves to be touched, even consumed by the fire of purification, penance, self-denial, confession, and conversion. Such purification and cleansing requires us to trust that our God is a God of compassion and mercy. Let us avail ourselves to the God of creation and the God of mercy, that we may encounter the Christ of Redemption. This encounter is necessary if we are to fulfill our mission of proclaiming Christ to the world.
This Lent, as St. Paul says: “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5: 20)