Ash Wednesday tends to sneak up on me. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we took down the Christmas decorations? With COVID-19, civil unrest and war dominating the front-page news, it can be hard to focus on the liturgical year sometimes. Does it even make a difference in our lives?
I think it does. With every trip we make around the sun, we grow and change. Our perspective shifts for all kinds of reasons: loss, new life, disappointment, illness, fresh challenges and opportunities. We bring all that to our faith lives, too. The familiar Ash Wednesday liturgy – the readings, the hymns, the ashes on our foreheads – are a touchstone. Here we are again, we may think to ourselves. We are reminded that when it comes down to it, we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Talk about perspective!
As the start of Lent, Ash Wednesday launches us into a journey of repentance, sacrifice, sharing, action. “Change your hearts,” we hear. “Turn back to me,” God says. But how?
To paraphrase a popular slogan, there is no “I” in “Lent.” Maybe that’s a good place to start. Maybe we can take ourselves out of the equation on each day of this important liturgical season. As we pray, fast and give, we can look beyond our own horizons and connect with our brothers and sisters in the human family as well as with our planet. By interconnecting the three Lenten practices, we see how each one builds on the others and, above all, changes our hearts.
We might begin by praying for all those who don’t have enough food or can’t access clean water – including the many children and adults in our own country who are living in these unjust situations. Refraining from that daily latte or other treat reminds us that we have more than we need and can sometimes choose to go without. In that spirit, we may donate time or money to a worthy cause that provides food for the hungry or water for those without it, or engage with our elected representatives to push for more equitable policies.
We can pray for healing for the earth, our common home. Turning down the thermostat or taking public transit or walking instead of driving is a type of fasting, too. This action can nudge us to encourage others to choose greener alternatives and prompt us to support the work of organizations that seek environmental justice.
Development and Peace is one Catholic organization that works all year long for justice in all sorts of places. Its 2022 campaign, People and Planet First, aims to “make sure that people and the planet are at the centre of our just recovery.” D&P offers many resources as part of its Share Lent program, including a Solidarity Calendar, a mini-magazine and a card for youth.
How can you, your family, a group of friends, and your parish or other faith community engage in Lenten practices that change hearts – including your own?
Anne Louise Mahoney is managing editor of Novalis. She is the editor of Looking to the Laity: Reflections on Where the Church Can Go from Here and the author of I Hope, a book for young children.