Lent: A journey from ashes to Easter Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Thursday, Feb. 08, 2018 -- 12:00 AM

On Ash Wednesday, Feb. 14 this year, we begin the season of Lent. The word Lent comes from an old English word meaning Spring time which is a season of new growth.

Lent is a season of the Church when we open ourselves to new spiritual growth so that at Easter, we can renew our baptismal promises with renewed committed faith and Christ-like joy and love.

Receiving ashes

When we receive the ashes, the priest or deacon says, “Remember, you are dust and unto dust you shall return.’’ These words remind us that we will die and our body upon which we may lavish much attention will turn to dust, but our soul which we may sometimes neglect will live forever.

When giving the ashes, the priest or deacon may also say, “Repent and believe the Good News!” In order to grow spiritually, we must repent of sin which impedes our spiritual growth.

In 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6:2, Ash Wednesday’s second reading, it says that while we still have the gift of life, the time to repent is now! Receiving the ashes indicates our willingness to live the paschal mystery, the heart of our faith, by dying to sin and rising to new life in Jesus.

By receiving the ashes, we admit that we are sinners who need God’s grace to help us grow and follow Jesus more fully.

Ways of fasting

In Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18, Ash Wednesday’s Gospel, it says that a fruitful Lenten penance may include fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.

When we think of fasting, we probably visualize fasting and abstaining from food and drink according to Lenten regulations. We must remember, however, that fasting should open us to doing works of charity and responding to neighbors in need. In Joel 2: 12-18, Ash Wednesday’s first reading, it says, “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord your God who is gracious and merciful.”

In his March 3, 2017 Lenten homily at Casa Santa Marta , Pope Francis quoted Isaiah 58:6-8, where Isaiah reveals that God wants fasting that changes our heart and results in freeing those bound unjustly, sets free the oppressed, breaks every yoke, shares bread with the hungry, shelters the oppressed and homeless, clothes the naked, does not turn away from our own, and other works of mercy.

We can also fast from controlling others, gossip, unjust criticism, resentments, and revenge. We can fast from poor listening and try to listen better to family, friends, co-workers, and others.

We can fast from complaining about what we don’t have and appreciate what we have. We can fast from being judgmental and impatient and try to be more patient.

Importance of prayer

A fruitful Lent and Lenten penance includes prayer. Prayer opens us to grace and strengthens us to see and respond to the needy.

We can do spiritual reading, mental prayer, participate in Mass, pray the Rosary, and go to Confession. We can attend Lenten devotions, study the Mass, participate in Eucharistic Adoration, or prayerfully study the Catechism of the Catholic Church.


Almsgiving can be another fruitful Lenten penance. The alms that we share should bring us into solidarity with those whom we help.

We can contribute to help our country and other countries recover from tragedies. We can help sponsor a Third World child, contribute to food pantries, visit shut-ins, or volunteer at a homeless shelter. We can help the poor in our midst who need encouragement and physical and spiritual support.

During Lent, let us choose a penance that is doable and helps us grow closer to Christ. May our Lent be a fruitful step in our journey of faith from ashes to Easter to heaven.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.