This past Wednesday, February 10th, was Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent 2016. For the next 40 days we are called to enhance our faith life through prayer, self-sacrifice and charity.
In the early Church, when Lent was considered a time for reconciliation of public penitents, the penitents would come to the church at the beginning of Lent. They would wear a penitential garment, suggesting sackcloth, and be sprinkled with ashes. Then they would be ritually expelled from the assembly to do their penance for forty days returning to the church on Holy Thursday, when they would be readmitted to the sacraments.
In time, the expulsion of penitents disappeared, but the ashes remained and became a call to penance for all the faithful. In the Scriptures, sackcloth and ashes are the signs of penance.
In the Gospel this weekend, we see that Jesus faces three temptations from Satan. Though they differ in focus, all three can be seen as temptations to live in a way contrary to God’s will. That is a challenge we all face on a daily basis. We are constantly challenged to live by values that are not those of the Gospel.
So in Lent, we are all invited to practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Even if we make slow progress, the purpose of prayer, fasting and almsgiving is to deepen our relationship with God.