Today is the start of Lent.

Lent has finally arrived. Today is Ash Wednesday. This may be a different type of Lent for you. In the United States, for example, many will have the ashes sprinkled on their head rather than smudged on their forehead because of the lingering concerns about the pandemic. The Catholic pillar had an interesting article trying to discover why in some parts of the world ashes are sprinkled on the forehead, while in other parts of the world they are smudged on the forehead. What did they find out? Well, that really we do not know, and it appears neither does anyone.

Anyway, today provides us the opportunity to contemplate the meaning of the season of Lent. In the preparation reflections we have had over the past few days, we have been thinking about what it is we can do to have a deeper relationship with Jesus and to be more active in the Church. Whatever you decided, remember that it is about prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

The first reading today reminds us that Lent is more about the inside than the outside, that Lent focuses us in interior conversion. Our interior conversion leads to change in our exterior behavior. But changing the heart is the real need for all of us this Lent.

The prophet Joel encourages us to die to sin. “Rend your hearts,” he tells us. The gospel provides a warning about exterior action that is not the result of interior conversion. And it is important for each of us to remember that the interior conversion of our hearts, this dying to sin, is not a matter of pride for us, but rather a chance to acknowledge the grace God pours out to us so that we can become our best selves.

This is no small task. In one way, the change of our hearts concerns that disposition that we need to cultivate our entire lives. It needs to be a constant reminder of how much we need the presence of God in our lives. That is why we have the sacraments. We go to Mass each week so that we can encounter the Body of Christ, both in the Eucharist and in the people. We have the sacrament of confession so that we will know that the mercy of God is always available to us when we repent.

Today is the beginning of a wonderful journey. It is the time when God can move our heart if we let him. And so, think of the threefold journey you start today for the season of Lent. Deepen your prayer. Sacrifice something to increase your desire to trust in God alone. Give of yourself to tame your selfishness and to serve Christ in the poor. Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. Let us pray for each other as we journey together this Lent.

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