From my window I can see the waters of Lake Ontario extending off into the horizon. Looking out, there is no proof that there is an opposite shore looking back at me. Ash Wednesday is kind of like that. We are called to do penance in preparation for an Easter in our lives that we cannot even imagine. Not only is there the visible paradox of the ashes on our foreheads in contrast to the message in Matthew to keep our penance secret, there is also the commitment to an act of tangible repentance that will change us in ways we can’t yet see. So while we are to give something up, to fast, give alms and spend more time in prayer, these actions are not the end: they are only the means. What we see—ashes, acts of penance—these are the lakeshore we stand upon, they are the waters we will cross. What we will become, and how we will change this Easter is in God’s hands.
Most people don’t like change. I guess a lot of it has to do with not being absolutely sure what change will bring. We hate to lose control over our lives. We simply have to trust, and trust is hard, but this dependence on God is at the heart of Lent. Maybe we are to let go of the illusion that we are the sole masters of our fates. So this Lent, let us all let God guide us to a new adventure. We might be pleasantly surprised.