Dear brothers and sisters,
I greet you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and would like to share with you this short reflection at the beginning of Lent. The holy time of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and, depending on the use and custom of our Diocese, whether it be pouring over our heads or making the sign of the cross on the forehead, those ashes will fall upon us again.
These are not the ashes of a smoking volcano, nor do they result from a blazing fire. These ashes will fall upon us as a reminder of the dust of the earth from which we were formed by the creative hands of our Father God, as the old text of Genesis so beautifully and clearly narrates. It is not just another tradition of the Church. It is not meant to corner us into fear and sadness, but to create awareness that we are dust, and that we have corners in our lives full of uncertainties, shame, anger, frustrations, hatred, envy, and strife with one another. These ashes remind us that although we were formed of the ashes of the earth, we were created to live in love, understanding, mutual help, and in learning to forgive each other. We are to put aside everything that is toxic volcanic ash in our lives and put on ashes that clean, that purify and extinguish all that does not come from God.
The ashes that will be poured over our heads are a tender and respectful invitation to humbly lift up our countenance without spite or vain ambition. They are a call to lift up our eyes from a reality which may always be improved and from the “cracks in the wall” through which hope, certainty and enthusiasm escape. Ashes do not consist of a humiliating paving stone meant to crush us even more than the daily tasks may overwhelm us. They are a Lenten symbol which opens us up to a desire to achieve things we didn’t even think were possible. And this longing desire is the one that allows us to catch a glimpse of a foreseen joy, where failure and grief do not have the final word. That final word is found instead in the promises fulfilled in the loving embrace of the Father.
With deep humility and a sincere heart, I invite all the members of the Diocese to set aside all those things which prevent us from living as true sons and daughters of God, as true Christians and as true members of the same Church.
May this Lent serve as an instrument of change and from it may our hearts be filled with a renewed commitment to follow Jesus and fulfill His holy will on His terms not ours. May we also remember that faith, charity and conversion are inseparable. Because we believe in God, we must love God, love who He loves and how He loves with lively faith and constant charity, which allow us to fix our gaze on God, learning to embrace each brother and sister with the same merciful disposition and making this world new with the seal of the civilization of love. There are so many wounds in our world and there is too much pain for us to even think of a Christian Lent any other way. The action of converting our heart and changing the way we see things by contemplating God must be a gesture of love full of solidarity that witnesses precisely to a belief in a God who is love. May the love of God be with us and in us this Lent and always.
The Rt. Rev. J. Alberto Morales, OSB