Hope in the Lord — Ashes, fish fries and Stations

Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz

The season of Lent is upon us. In the past, I often wrote about the threefold time-honored themes of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but this year I will focus on ashes, fish fries and Stations of the Cross. Not that the time-honored themes are out of fashion. For sure, Lent calls us to special prayer, to fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, to abstaining from meat on all of the Fridays of Lent and to finding ways to be generous by giving alms.

By the way, Operation Rice Bowl – the practice of having a leaner meal with your family and giving the proceeds that you would have spent on a lavish or even regular meal to help those most in need – continues to be a great way to fast and give alms and, in this case, to do it together. The “doing it together” is the point of my new trio – ashes, fish fries and Stations of the Cross.

Throughout the Archdiocese, I love to see so many coming as a family to all three. On Ash Wednesday, countless families with children line up for this start-of-Lent ritual, hearing the call to “repent and believe in the Gospel” and receiving a sign of the cross on their foreheads, which marks them as one with Christ who suffered for their sins and brought salvation. Often we receive ashes with others – together. So, too, the customary fish fries provide a chance to come together for a Lenten ritual. Combine the fish fry with the Friday Stations of the Cross, and you have a family event that moves all into the true spirit of Lent.

This year Pope Francis focuses on a Lenten theme from the Letter of Saint Paul to the Romans 8:19, where he says: “creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.” Pope Francis is reminding us that Lent serves as that preparation for the culmination of our liturgical year in the Triduum, where we seek to become conformed to Christ. This preparation and renewal, however, is never private or individualistic. We do it together, and we benefit creation by cooperating in its redemption. Through the love of Christ, we give praise and include all of creation in that praise.

Since the destructive power of sin separates us from God and one another, our Lenten practices ought to unite us to God and to one another. The double temptations of “I want it all, and I want it now” or “too much is never enough,” tempt us to greed, unbridled pursuit of comfort and acting in destructive ways toward our neighbors, other creatures, and even our families and ourselves. Pope Francis relates the sin of greed to our treatment of the Earth, our common home, and calls us to respect prudent limits. He warns of an unhealthy individualism in which we only think about ourselves and “act without thought for God or hope for the future.”

The answer to sin, Pope Francis says, lies in the healing power of repentance and forgiveness. During Lent, we have the opportunity to renew our hearts through repentance, conversion and forgiveness so that we may live fully the abundant grace of the paschal mystery.

When I was growing up, I always thought of Lent as a one-on-one affair: I prayed, I fasted and I gave away what was mine for others. In fact, however, most of my Lenten practices were with others. Stations of the Cross and daily Mass were with others. My Lenten meals of fasting were with family. My donations were often in a small “Mission Bank” in which I put coins each day, only to bring them to school as the end of Lent to offer them to God, along with my classmates who were doing the same. We were acting together.

I recall someone saying, “I want to go to heaven but I don’t want to go alone. I want you to come with me!” In fact, that may well be a re-wording of Jesus’ call to follow Him as Church. We follow together.

So let us together enter the procession that we call Lent. Together, we enter the procession to be marked by the ashes of repentance. Together, we pray at daily Mass and Friday Stations of the Cross – and, yes, together we dine at the Friday fish fries! May this Lent be a glorious procession of repentance and praise as we move toward Easter – and together process to our heavenly home. With all creation, we await that final revelation of our God in Christ Jesus – and we do so together.

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