Wednesday of this week is Ash Wednesday and so begins the 40 days of Lent. For the people of Israel and indeed for early Christians the number 40 was more than a measure of a quantity, it had a spiritual significance: the number 40 proclaimed a time of preparation for a new beginning in people’s relationship with God.
Noah was in the ark for 40 days- preparation for a new beginning in relationship with God. Moses led the people of Israel through the desert for 40 years before they reached the promised land- a time of preparation for a new beginning in their relationship with God. Jesus fasted and prayed for 40 days in the desert before beginning his public ministry- a time of preparation for a new beginning to God’s relationship with his people.
We begin our 40 days of prayer, fasting, almsgiving- a time of preparation for a renewal of our relationship with God. This year we are not able to anoint our heads with ashes to announce our intention of beginning these three great acts of piety: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It has always been amazing how many people come to Ash Wednesday services. It is a mystery why people turn out in such numbers!
This year, because of Covid regulations, there will be no public declaration of Lenten resolve allowed. But the need to change, to renew the struggle against selfishness and evil by prayer, fasting and penitence becomes painfully obvious. Lents asks us to take stock of what we are doing with our time and talents. As we become aware of our own faults, we need to realise that changes need to be made.
- Perhaps it is time to take a hard look at our misuse of the gift of speech- gossiping, passing rash verbal judgements. A simple vow to hold our tongue may prove a useful medicine.
- Perhaps a resolution to be pleasant to the person or family member with whom we always seem to disagree or clash.
- Daily prayer is important to us all- it is the vital lifeline in our friendship with God. Our invitation to a personal relationship with Christ cannot be achieved without prayer.
Lent is the season of GRACE to be taken seriously. The challenge of saying “NO” to ourselves and “YES” to God is what constitutes the Lenten time of preparation for celebrating Easter.
Fr Aidan Mullan is Administrator of Saint Columba’s Church, Long Tower, Derry.