Lent is Almost Here. Time to Get to Work.
By Bishop David J. Malloy
Next Wednesday, March 2, is Ash Wednesday. That day is remarkable for its enduring attractiveness to so many in a time when faith is challenged or even ignored.
Many parishes add Masses or other opportunities to receive ashes on that day and often they are well attended. What is interesting is not that regularly practicing Christians and Catholics come to church on that day. That would probably be expected. But what is noticeable is that Ash Wednesday is often frequented by those who rarely attend Mass. 
I have often noted over the years how remarkable it is that throughout the day one also passes many people in public places like the store or on public transportation who display the ashes they have received. I’ve been surprised in the past to see even television personalities who appear in their broadcasts with ashes on their foreheads.
There is something about the mark of ashes that touches a core of our humanity. It is an acknowledgement of an aspect of ourselves that we often try to avoid confronting. That is, that we have sinned, that we are morally flawed, and that each of us is in need of a forgiveness from beyond ourselves.
Still, like so many elements of the liturgy and of faith, Ash Wednesday places before us a profound choice. That is, will we allow ourselves to be satisfied with the simple, once a year, reception of ashes as a means of signaling to ourselves and others a painless and unchallenging recognition of imperfection? Or, will we use this day to change our hearts and put aside what is sinful in our lives in order to seek Christ now and for eternity?
The opening prayer of Mass on Ash Wednesday, says this: “We entreat you O Lord, that, through works of penance and charity, we may turn away from harmful pleasures and, cleansed from our sins, may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of your Son.” In other words, we ask God’s help so that by the end of Lent, we have not simply passed through another six weeks of life. Instead, we seek to use this time to be changed and better in His sight.
How might we use this time well? That opening prayer outlines the plan. First, we embrace works of penance. Penance is not a negative act of self-punishment. It is, rather, a chosen act to offer ourself to God in a manner that focuses our attention on God and calls for self-discipline. Fasting is a good example. Giving up even a small amount of accustomed food takes effort and reminds us of God for whom it is done.
The prayer then reminds us of charity during Lent. Our hearts best seek Christ when we look for Him in others around us. Of course charity can serve the poor, the sick or the lonely. But how about extra charity toward family members, even my spouse or children?
Finally, the prayer speaks of being “cleansed from our sins.” That cleansing can only come from God. It is a call for us to make a good Lenten confession. And that practice should then be repeated throughout the year. 
Remember also to please mark your calendar for April 6 as our annual Be Reconciled Day when confessions are heard throughout the day in the Diocese of Rockford. Why not plan now to make your Lenten confession.
In the end, Lent is a very positive time. It stresses what we all so desire: freedom! Freedom from sin and from unhealthy physical and spiritual attachments. But it is also freedom for what we have been made and called to be — which is happy, healthy and one with Christ.
Lent is here. It’s a great time. But we need to get to work!