Lent: Going Back to God
We Catholics are wild about signs and symbols. We make the Sign of the Cross whenever we pray, worship, enter the church, walk through a cemetery, or even step up to the plate at a baseball game. We wear symbols of our faith on our ears and around our necks; hang them on our walls and dangle them from our rear view mirrors. We take yearlong pride in the palms we carry home from church on Palm Sunday, and we are especially careful to get that little cruciform black smudge of ashes on our foreheads at Ash Wednesday Mass.
Those ashes are the mark of our repentance. This is the sign that we intend once again, during this 40-day season of Lent, to change our lives, give up the ways of the world, and get back on track to the Kingdom of God.
“You have all gone astray like sheep,” laments St. Peter in 1 Pet. 2:25, “Now return to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.”
Sin draws us in many directions, but they all lead to death. No matter what we gain in this world—money, power, possessions, pleasure, dominance, influence, comfort, security—it all ends sooner or later. There is nothing we can take with us beyond the grave. But it is through the grave that we enter eternal life and the Kingdom of God! Jesus Christ gave up everything in this world so that He might gain everything in the world to come.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Jesus cries out in Matthew 4:17.
You have died with Christ “and were buried with him in baptism,” St. Paul writes in Col. 2:12, “and you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” He continues in 3:1-4: “If you were raised with Christ, then seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God … for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory.”
Look around, and you can easily see how far we’ve gotten away from a life with Christ in His death and burial. We are very much alive to the world and all it contains. We fill our homes, our bank accounts, and our bodies with all the passing things of the world that keep us from God’s Kingdom.
During Lent we turn and go the other way, back to God. We fast, we pray, we give our money to the poor. The mark of the ashes is an outward sign that signifies an inward reality. We believe in the cross of Jesus Christ. As He has shared in our humanity, so we are invited to share in His divinity. Our sins are forgiven.
We only need to join him in a communion of flesh and blood. He has offered us His. The question for these 40 days is: Will we offer Him ours?
Father Jan K. Schmidt is a priest of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati and currently serves in the Archdiocesan Pastoral Center as the Director of the Department for Pastoral Vitality, and as both Dean of the South-A Deanery and Rector of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Peter in Chains in Cincinnati.