Ash Wednesday leads us into embracing the spirit of Lent. In this pandemic year, we need to look to non-traditional ways of doing so. CNS photo/Jeffrey Bruno

Fr. Yaw Acheampong: Season of renewal begins

By  Fr. Yaw Acheampong
  • February 14, 2021

When is the best time to repent? A couple of weeks ago this question came up during my telephone conversation with a friend about Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17. Christians normally associate the word “repent” with Lent because we think of Lent as a special time of reflection, a time of penitence and a time to return to the Lord.

Every year we look forward to celebrating Ash Wednesday as part of our preparation for our Lenten journey. The ritual of having our foreheads marked with ashes in the form of a cross symbolizes our frailty, our brokenness. The ritual also reminds us of Jesus’ call — “to repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15).

On Ash Wednesday, we also hear the priest say the Opening Prayer at Mass, “Grant O God, that we may begin with holy fasting this campaign of Christian service so that as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self restraint” (Roman Missal, p. 193). Ash Wednesday therefore serves as a marker to spiritually lead us into embracing the spirit of Lent. 

However, with the lockdown and other restrictions put in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we might be wondering how to make this year’s Lent as traditional as in the past. With many of us staying away from church, how can we all make this Lent spiritually meaningful to us?

Over the past year the pandemic has drawn our attention to what is most important in our lives — life itself. We may not have had the opportunity to come together to experience some of the spiritual practices that deepen our spiritual lives. For those of us who believe that Jesus gave His life to save us (Galatians 1:4), perhaps we can take this Lent as a time to think about the state of our spiritual lives — our lives in Christ. As part of our preparation for our Lenten discipline, we can ponder these questions: How has our absence from the church affected our spiritual lives? In what ways have we turned away from God?

As Christians, our journey of life is to be Christ-centred in all situations and circumstances. But we also acknowledge our challenges of living with Christ as our focus. In his apostolic exhortation Gaudete et Exsultate (On the Call to Holiness in Today’s World), Pope Francis talks about how our path towards holiness is a constant battle against the devil. “Along this journey, the cultivation of all that is good, progress in the spiritual life and growth in love are the best counterbalance to evil” (163).

Lent is that part of the Christian journey that the Church has given us to examine our progress in the spiritual life. This is the time that we open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit to help us recognize those areas in our lives that need to be transformed.

We are always being called to make changes in our lives so as to live as people who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 1:7). In his encyclical letter Fratelli Tutti(On Fraternity and Social Friendship), Pope Francis uses the story of the Good Samaritan to describe what it means for us to live the Christian life. He writes: “Each day offers us a new opportunity, a new possibility
. … We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes” (77).

So, what do we need to do for our spiritual growth and renewal? How can this Lent help us correct our faults and return to God? The Scriptures for Ash Wednesday and during Lent hold up models of Christian life for us to consider and to imitate for our Lenten discipline.

The Scriptures present the characteristics of the Christian life as a spiritual relationship with God, a life of service to God and community and fidelity to God. The Scripture readings also emphasize that it is not what we do that matters most but how we do it. Whichever Lenten discipline we decide to practice we need to perform the discipline with a contrite heart and a desire to change.

As we begin our Lenten campaign, let us pray that our act of self-reflection may lead us to examine the type of relationship we have had with Christ in the past and the type we hope to develop that is life-giving. With Jesus as our companion on our journey, we hope that with our life renewed, we would be spiritually ready to celebrate Easter. Let us also use this Lent to prepare us to serve our communities beyond the pandemic. 

Have a spirit-filled Lenten journey.

(Fr. Acheampong is pastor at Our Lady of Peace Parish in Toronto.)

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