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A blessed Ash Wednesday to everybody! I find the prayer for today to be a really stirring send-off into the great season of Lent:
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
With its images of campaign, battle, and weapons, this prayer is an explicit and vivid call to spiritual warfare. And it tells us exactly what we need in order to wage–and win–the battle: fasting, service, and self-restraint. This echoes and expands upon the traditional trio of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, each of which is so important, not only for spiritual warfare but for life in general.
Is it not a tremendous blessing that each year brings this season of Lent in which we can focus on deepening and growing and maturing in our spiritual lives? Is it not an exciting time? A kind of adventure? The word Lent means “Springtime,” and that is a perfect name for this season of new opportunities for flourishing.
For a long time, I always thought of Lent as a dreary season of drudgery, with nothing uplifting or exciting or adventurous at all. I didn’t see it as the wonderful opportunity that it is. I didn’t realize or appreciate any of the rewards it can bring. I looked at Lent through the lens of the secular world and culture: just another way the Church crushed happiness and imposed pain upon its benighted and masochistic adherents. I much preferred the popular modern worldview that equates happiness with pleasure and goodness with feeling good. But that worldview leads nowhere. Follow it long enough and you may easily find yourself in the nothingness, the hopelessness, the extreme and all-consuming poverty of Hell. Those fortunate enough (as I was), will experience a taste of Hell before it is too late and becomes an eternal dwelling.
I don’t deny that the season of Lent and the entirety of Christian life can sometimes be difficult, uncomfortable, and uncertain. But the rewards–especially the ultimate, eternal reward of Heaven–far outshine any of the difficult spots. And they really are just little spots when you pause to look back over where you’ve come. Little spots amidst oceans of joy, of love, of peace, and above all, of grace. Lent is a powerful means of unleashing those oceans!
So, let us all dare to leave behind some of our comfort and security and complacence–which make it all too easy to be self-centered–and have a successful Lent!