February 22, 2012 - Today is Ash Wednesday and Christians from all over the world begin a forty day spiritual journey known as Lent.
The destination is Easter and I'd like to offer a few words that might help you walk the path more successfully. Basically, Lent is about 'walking alongside' Jesus Christ by imitating him and following his call to conversion.
The forty days of Lent are first of all an imitation of the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert before he began his public work.
He fasted during this time and when the days were over, the devil tempted him just as he had tempted Adam in the Garden of Eden.
Adam disobeyed God's command and God told him: "You are dust and to dust you shall return."
In this way, God was revealing that death is one of the consequences of sin. The ashes that many receive on their forehead today are a reminder of that reality.
Whenever we purposely do something we know to be wrong, we turn our back on God and start to walk away from the loving Father who created us. We walk away from the source of our life and this route will always be a dead end.
Well, the good news is that Jesus is the new Adam. Instead of turning his back on God as Adam did, Jesus responded in the desert by being faithful to God.
Jesus thwarted temptation. By imitating Jesus' obedience to God, we do an about-face from Adam's path and turn towards the path of life.
That 'turning towards' God is exactly what the call to conversion is all about.
There are many ways to reverse course, but there are three things that are especially effective: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
These are three signposts of the spiritual life that will always point us in the right direction.
Fasting helps us along the path of conversion when dealing with ourselves; almsgiving directs our goodness towards others, and prayer turns us toward God.
It's no secret that a child will tend to think about only what he wants when he wants it. Adults have the responsibility to teach children to look beyond themselves.
In a similar way, fasting helps us to be spiritually mature. By giving up something, we are able to see beyond our own immediate needs; our vision is purified.
Fasting directs our vision outside of ourselves. So, in certain sense, fasting prepares us for almsgiving, the path of giving to others. By giving to others we follow the path of Christ who said:
"It is better to give than to receive." That, of course, leads us to prayer, which is turning towards God by looking at Jesus Christ. Prayer is the final step in conversion because we direct our minds and hearts towards our final goal: God himself. No matter where you are on the journey may this Lent bring you closer to the final destination. Happy trails!
Fr. Daniel Pajerski, LC, is Formation Director for Everest Academy.