Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a season of prayer and repentance, a time to for us to seek a conversion of heart leading us to turn away from sin and remain faithful to the Gospel. It is also a time of preparation for the celebration of the paschal mystery.
In order to prepare, the Lord calls us to enter into the three spiritual exercises of prayer, fasting and almsgiving that are directed toward growing our relationships, especially in our relationship with him. Jesus teaches us in the Gospel of St. Matthew that, “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites … When you fast, do not look gloomy … When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, ” (Mt 6:5, 16, 3)
Moreover, Pope Francis reminds us that “Lent is a favorable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ." In a particular way, the season of Lent is one in which we are called to work to build a culture of encountering others as Jesus did, not just seeing, but looking; not just hearing, but listening; not just passing people by, but stopping with them and offering them a deeper compassion and an accompaniment that returns each person to their dignity as a child of God.
By virtue of our baptism, Jesus challenges us to give as a gift what we receive as a gift, casting off all indifference, and asking for the grace to build within our hearts and among those around us a culture of fruitful encounter.
This year, as we journey through the season of Lent to the three days that unfold for us the unity of Christ’s paschal mystery, let us be faithful to the Gospel and give serious attention to how we might encounter others as Jesus did with a deeper compassion and self-sacrificing love for one another. This year, do not let the ashes we receive be just an annual ritual sign. Rather, wear them as a visible mark of our commitment to live and act as Jesus did with courage and compassion for the good of all.