This coming Wednesday, we start our Lenten journey towards Easter. A journey marked by signs of conversion and repentance. A journey that will prepare us to celebrate more meaningfully the mystery of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension into Heaven, as well as the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
The Church offers us an itinerary of forty days, but this is not to encourage us to leave conversion for the last minute, as the prophet Joel reminds us in the first reading of the Mass for Ash Wednesday: “Now, now–it is the Lord who speaks–come back to me with all your heart; fasting, weeping, mourning." St Paul in the second reading writes, quoting the prophet Isaiah: “At the favourable time, I have listened to you, on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.” The favourable time, the right time to come back to God, is today not tomorrow.
This time of Lent, originally designed to accompany and prepare those who were to receive Baptism at Easter, still rings with notes reminding us of our Baptism. Indeed, the celebrations of Easter would have no effect in us if we were not united to Christ in some way. In the waters of Baptism, we died and were buried with Christ. We drowned–as it were–our sinful selves and rose again together with Christ to a new life of virtue and faith, symbolised by the light of the baptismal candle and the white garment we put on. So, we not only need to prepare ourselves to celebrate and participate in the mysteries of the life of Christ, but we also need to get ready for our public and solemn renewal of our baptismal promises and the profession of our faith at Easter Sunday.
Let us all come and receive the ashes this Wednesday, asking the Lord for a spirit of repentance, a deep desire for conversion, and fortitude for the battle against our sinful ways, so that we may be prepared for the Easter celebrations. Taking for ourselves the words of St Paul: “Get rid of the old yeast so that you can be the fresh dough, unleavened as you are. For our Passover has been sacrificed, that is Christ, let us keep the feast, then, with none of the old yeast and no leavening of evil and wickedness, but only the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth."