Our Lenten journey began with Ash Wednesday on March 2. Catholics from throughout our diocese came to Ash Wednesday Masses and services and were marked with ashes. These ashes represented our mortality. They reminded us that we are dust and to dust we will return.
Yet, as Pope Francis reminds us, “upon this dust of ours, God blew his Spirit of life.”
Our Lenten journey, which started with the ashes of Ash Wednesday represents this passage from death to life. We are dust, yes, but dust that has been loved and called into life by God. Thus, Lent is a time to remember that the goal of our existence is sanctity: a movement from dust to life.
This movement is captured well in the stories of the saints. It is captured especially in the story of Simon Peter from a few Sundays ago, when the Lord called Simon, the fisherman, into a new life of “catching men”(v.10).
“This is what he does in each of us,” Pope Francis said in his remarks on this gospel passage. “He asks us to welcome him on the boat of our life, in order to set out anew with him and to sail a new sea, one which proves to be full of surprises.”
Only with God’s help can we embark on the journey of faith that leads us to new life. Only with God’s help can we accept our true calling and follow the path that leads us to God.
This is why the ashes of Ash Wednesday are typically traced on our foreheads in the sign of the cross. They represent more than just our mortality or our finitude. They also represent our repentance, our need for God’s grace and mercy, and our hope for eternal life in Christ.
Again, as Pope Francis tweeted a couple years ago: “Lent is a time of grace, a time for recognizing that our lowly ashes are loved by God and for letting God gaze upon us with love, and in this way change our lives. We were put in this world to go from ashes to life.” The key to this change in life is recognizing both our ashes and His love in the Lord’s personal address to each of us.
Simon Peter, we recall, was surprised and uncertain before this call from the Lord. Perhaps the knowledge of his own inadequacy tempted him to reject it. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (v. 8). And yet, as Pope Francis reminds us, Simon Peter says these words on his knees before the One whom by this point he recognizes as ‘Lord.’
It’s not that Simon Peter merely recognized his own sinfulness, his ‘ashes,’ so to speak, and that’s it. But that he recognized himself to be before the One who had drawn close to him still, despite his sinfulness, despite his failings, despite his ‘ashes.’ For him, as it was, is, and forever will be for us: it is all grace, all mercy, all the time.
From ashes to life, the Lord calls each of us to new life in order to become witnesses to God’s goodness and mercy in the world. In what ways is the Spirit of God opening a new horizon before you now to cooperate in his mission? How might you place greater trust in God’s word and the plan that God has for your life this Lent?
“Do not be afraid”, the Lord says to us. “From now on you will be …..”.
- Father Jonathan Ficara, Director of Vocations