March 1 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Ashes should be more than skin deep

Lent gives us the opportunity to ‘reboot’ and regain the spiritual focus that too often gets diluted, says Fr Michael Kane

This week our parishes will mark the beginning of the season of Lent as we celebrate Ash Wednesday. These 40 days of spiritual preparation for Easter are arguably the most intense for Catholics (and priests!), a time to re-energise our spiritual lives.

In practical terms this might mean trying to get to Mass more often, perhaps on weekdays, or spending more time in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. We try to make a good confession and to add to our daily prayer routine. We also make commitments to mortify ourselves in small ways. In my case this means no sweets or chocolate, and worst of all, no morning coffee! We gift the Lord these small sacrifices to show our love for him.

All of these things are tools in helping us to grow as disciples of Jesus; alert, strong and ready to celebrate His glorious Resurrection at Easter which is the summit of our Christian calendar. This penitential season is given to us as a precious gift, an encouragement to dive deeper into our relationship with the person of Jesus. It’s a time to ‘reboot’ and regain our spiritual focus that all too often gets diluted in daily life.

Growing in discipleship is the primary aim of any penitential season: an opportunity ‘to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.’

This conversion of heart is the first vocation of every Christian but it’s rarely plain sailing. True discipleship means advancing with the Lord on the path of holiness, and bringing along with us the baggage of life. It can be a turbulent and rocky vocation, full of ups and downs.

Our situation is akin to the disciples in the boat with the Lord battling turbulent seas. They want to remain close to Jesus but they are battered by different problems and struggles. Their lives involve sailing in rough seas and high tides: insecurities, worries, fears and lack of Faith.

We find the same struggles in the boat of our lives, and there are no exceptions to that rule. Discipleship involves the Cross. All human beings, without exception, have their own storms to battle. Family problems, marriage problems, difficulties at work, unhealed wounds, health scares, bereavement, addictions, crosses which leave their mark on us. On the surface they may be invisible, but underneath we all have these crosses that we’re limping along with. And if we have only one at the moment, then we’re probably fortunate because many others are weighed down and crippled with a torrent of problems.

We all know our own struggles. We know how debilitating and cruel they can be. So, in a sense, we find ourselves in the boat with the disciples, battling against all these things, in the storm, the rough seas of life.

And yet in that boat of life we depend on the Lord to walk among us and give us calm, to give us security and to accompany us through the storm. As Jesus walks on the water, so he promises to walk with us. He puts out his hand for us to hold on tight. In the parish I am amazed every day at the small miracles I see in the lives of others, especially in those who approach their problems with trust that the Lord will guide them through their personal storms. This is a tremendous example of real discipleship.

Yet, so often in the midst of the struggles of life, we can be like Peter. We give up, we lose confidence in the Lord, we doubt him, we doubt ourselves, we give in to fear, and so we begin to sink under the weight of our struggles. This is the temptation for every disciple. When things get tough, some let go of the Lord’s hand, and seek help elsewhere. How often this happens in the world today. People turn away from the Lord.

I sometimes hear people say to me: “Father, I’ve been praying to God to help me; I’ve been asking Him for answers. But he’s silent.”

In the midst of this kind of disappointment people sometimes opt for alternatives, like fortune tellers or horoscopes or new age paths: to enter dangerous waters where the Lord is not present.

This is the hopeless, anti-Christian response to struggle which says: “I no longer trust in the Lord. I place my trust in other things and in other places.” It’s a very dangerous move which we should always try to guard against. For every disciple Christ alone is our hope.

How often has that happened to us? We doubt that God will sustain us. We lose trust and confidence in the Lord. We no longer rely on His providence, and foolishly, we begin to look elsewhere.

This is precisely why the approaching season of Lent is so important. On Wednesday we will press the reset button on our spiritual lives and refocus our attention on the person of Jesus Christ, and on his Gospel.

Ash Wednesday will see our foreheads marked with the Sign of the Cross. But let’s make sure that imprint is more than skin deep as we recommit ourselves as Christian disciples.


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