“Remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
Not very pleasant words. A reminder that I shall die. Perhaps even more sobering, a reminder that I shall be judged. That’s not very comforting. It has been said that the gospel is meant to “bring comfort to the afflicted, and to afflict those who are comfortable.” The gospel is meant to trouble us. Surely it comforts us, but during Lent it is supposed to challenge our egos and illusions about ourselves. So often we will fail during our Lenten resolutions, but these “failures” remind us of an eternal truth—I need to be saved, by one stronger than myself. I can’t do it alone. I need…a Savior. And the Savior can only save the one who acknowledges that he needs to be saved. Said the Lord: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” We will remind ourselves daily that we need to be saved through acts of Lenten penance: fasting, prayers, Confession, forgiveness, sacrifice, conversion, and pardon. Our small, daily penances and sacrifices will build up our resistance and resolve so that when the big temptations come along, we will be ready to combat them. Penance is that constant reminder that this life is only a pilgrimage; we hunger for heaven. Penance prompts us not to cling to the fleeting things of this world, but to seek things eternal.
The 6th century saint and archbishop Caesarius of Arles wrote of Lent: “With the hope of attaining eternal life, during these days of Lent, let us strive to repair in this little ship of our soul whatever through this past year has been broken or destroyed or damaged or ruined by the many storms; that is, by the waves of our sins.” And so, we join ourselves to countless people united across the globe for the next 40 days to fix what is broken, repair what was ruined, so that God might find us worthy, and the ship of our soul afloat.
This week we begin the Lenten season by marking ourselves unmistakably with the ashes upon our forehead. The external and very public acknowledgement that you and I are sinners in need of a Savior. We enter now into these 40 days of Lent, after which comes the glory of Easter. For 40 days and nights there was the great flood of Noah, followed by a beautiful new earth. Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, and then arrived at the beauty of the land of milk and honey. Jesus spent 40 days and nights being tempted by the devil in the desert, and then was ministered to by the heavenly angels themselves. And it is Easter that awaits those who have passed through these 40 days of Lent. For our salvation begins this day! Never in history has Easter ever come before Lent. In order to get to the magnificence that awaits us at Easter, first…Lent!
-Fr. Gerard Gordon