Rise Up From the Ashes

We begin Lent with a reminder: remember you are dust, and from dust you shall return. During this penitential season leading up to Easter we are rising up from the ashes. While God forgives our sins, from our hearts then through the sacraments of healing, we can still do penance to make reparations for the sins we committed. Through prayer, penance, and fasting, we have the opportunity to be transformed. We rise up from the ashes by using these supplications that can and should be a challenge throughout Lent.

Early into the season, I understood better the challenges I faced by doing certain penances such as giving up specific items. If penance was easy it would not have as much of an impact. The point of Lent is to come out of it a more united with Christ. You get a glimpse of His suffering and His conquering of death and sin.

“When you fast, do not be somber like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that your fasting will not be obvious to men, but only to your Father, who is unseen. And your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” -Matthew 6:16-18

We carry our personal crosses during the 40 day journey and we strive to persevere. Our Blessed Lord, as the bridegroom, warned the ten virgins to keep plenty of oil for their lamps until He arrives. Those that brought plenty of oil for their lamps persevered. Those that didn’t had to go backward in their journey and did not make it to the finish line. Christ rejected them saying “I do not know you.” (cf. Matthew 25:1-13)

One of the basic forms of penance the Church asks is to abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year as a reminder of His Passion. It's a small atonement that can be offered but it can make an impact on your spiritual life. Our Lord came so that we may have an abundance of life (John 10:10). When you begin to do penances, maybe the bare minimum is all you can offer. Eventually your spiritual "muscles" will get stronger and you'll be able to offer more expiations to Our Lord.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” -2 Timothy 4:7

There are different expressions of performing penance, whether formal or informal. In the Old Testament, a form of reparation would be to cover one self with ash and put on sackcloth. “They have thrown dust on their heads; They have girded themselves with sackcloth.” (Lamentations 2:10)

Lent is intimately connected with baptism. Not as a symbolic gesture, but a sacramental change to the person’s soul. We are buried with Christ in the waters of baptism, as we come up from the baptismal waters we are also raised with Christ (Colossians 2:12). In the early Church, the catechumens spent the season of Lent in preparation for receiving the sacraments beginning with baptism. 

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; A broken and a contrite heart, God, You will not despise.” -Psalms 51:17

Christians very early on understood penance. In the Didache we read: “Before the baptism, let the one baptizing and the one to be baptized fast, as also any others who are able. Command the one who is to be baptized to fast beforehand for one or two days…[After becoming a Christian] do not let your fasts be with the hypocrites. They fast on Monday and Thursday, but you shall fast on Wednesday and Friday (Didache 7:1, 8:1 [A.D.70]).

“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.” -2 Corinthians 5:17

You are dust as you enter Lent, and with a challenging effort you can rise up from the ashes through prayer, penance, and fasting. You’ll be spiritually stronger and more unified with Our Blessed Lord. By the time Easter arrives and you receive Him in the Eucharist, remember the words of Saint Thomas the Apostle, “my Lord and my God."

by John Connor

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