What does New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday have in common? Go ahead, think about it. We will wait…………………… Those dots could be seconds, or minutes or hours. You choose. Anyway, when you resume reading, the time is up. We’re back. And the answer is: On both days’ people make resolutions. At the start of the year, people see this as an opportunity to begin anew, to be the person they want to be. Stopping smoking, losing weight, cutting back on sweets, trying to kick habits of alcohol abuse, drug abuse, or sex abuse…all of these are seen as something to avoid. Why? They are preventing us from being the person who we so desperately want to be.

Ash Wednesday comes along, and we see that our New Year’s resolutions are a little ragged at the edges. Every one of the do not’s have changed into have done’s. Most of the time we want to cut back or stop altogether, because we don’t like ourselves as we are. We don’t like what we see in the mirror. What we see in the mirror, however, is NOT what our mind’s eye sees. Our mind sees that part of us that a diet, a smokeless day, or a kicking of a habit can’t change. Our mind sees our weakness, our frailty, our inconsistency. Period. We have attacked the result, not the cause.

What is different about Ash Wednesday, then? The things given up and the sacrifices are not the end result; they are not the desired purpose. No, they are (pardon the pun), the stepping stones that bring us closer to being the person that we know we should be. We sacrifice for a purpose, not a result. We are kind and attentive, not because it does something for us, but because it helps someone who is need. We want to feel the hurt of our sacrifices; we want to feel the hunger, not because we are sadomasochistic, but because we have a love for our God, a love for the Christ, a love for our fellow man.

We know that Lent is leading us eventually to the cross. It is leading us to the death and resurrection of Jesus. Our lives, from the moment we were born, have been relentlessly leading us to our own death and resurrection. So why now, do we emphasize the sacrifices that are so typical of lent?

We said earlier that we sacrifice for a purpose. That purpose is not pointed at ourselves. That purpose is for someone else. We give up candy, and cigarettes and alcohol so that that money can be used by someone else, who desperately needs it. We stifle our sharp tongue because people are weary of hearing our belly aching, our laments, our curses. No matter what the sacrifice, two things are happening: one, we are feeling a discomfort; and two, someone else is benefitting from that sacrifice.

So, the ashes are placed on our forehead, today. We walk around with them, not to proudly announce we were at church today.  Those ashes should serve as a reminder to ourselves and to anyone who sees them, “We are all dust and unto dust we shall return”. Now is as good a time as any to repent, to love Him, to love our neighbor. Have a Happy Lent.