"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return." These words are spoken to all those who receive ashes on Ash Wednesday, and they capture the essence of the Lenten season. Although spring is just on the horizon (maybe sooner than usual, if we are to believe Punxsutawney Phil), we must first endure the last few weeks of cold, grey winter; likewise, before the joy of Easter and the rebirth it brings, we must first make penance and ponder both Jesus's death and our own. Memento mori - remember, you will die.
We are not usually awaiting the Lenten season with bated breath. Its somber tone and prescriptions of sacrifice don't exactly scream 'joy'; who looks forward to giving up little indulgences that seem to get us through the day, like sweets and coffee? And yet it is those sacrifices that, in their own small way, inch us closer to our eternal reward. In offering them up, we are dying to ourselves. We actively deny ourselves a pleasure of the flesh not only in penance for our sins, but also in order to grow in virtue and reliance on God. Every time we say no to an earthly pleasure for God's sake, we are building strength in our spiritual life. Now it is not the sweets and coffee that sustain us, but God.
At the forefront of our thoughts during this season should be the reality of death. It is an inevitability for all of us. So integral is death to the human experience that even God Himself chose to endure it. Even though the Cross gave us the hope of eternal life, it is not guaranteed. Before we celebrate our salvation at Easter, it is fitting to reflect on what brought death into the world, necessitated the Cross in the first place, and continually separates us from God - our own sin. Reflecting often on the reality of our death and the possibility of eternal separation from God helps to rein in our temptation to sin. Instead, it renews our resolve to rely ever more on God's grace and goodness.
Sacrifices need not only be a physical thing; it would do our souls good to also give up little thoughts and deeds that offend God, like making a biting remark when someone insults us or gossiping about our colleagues. In addition, Lent is a wonderful time to renew our prayer life and make a trip to the confessional. Don't let these quiet and sobering days pass without proper preparation, for that preparation will make Easter all the more triumphant!
By Anna Neal