Next Wednesday, March 1st, is Ash Wednesday. All over Dublin, indeed all over the world droves of people will turn out to get their ashes. I do not know how true it is but apparently a number of years ago a famous politician was known for topping up his own ashes during the course of the day, mindful of the cameras. Yes, they will come throughout the day for ashes for themselves, and for the sick and elderly at home. Indeed some will even insist that the infant in the pram be marked with the black ash. For me, I find this a difficult request to accede to, I mean how can a beautiful little baby respond to the words that accompany the ashes, ‘repent’, or ‘turn away from sin.’ It is quite extraordinary that the distribution of Ashes still draws crowds of people. Sadly for many it has little lasting significance and can easily end up in tokenism. This is very sad indeed as Ash Wednesday, and indeed the actual receiving of the ashes, is one of the richest occasions in the liturgical year. So a good question for us this weekend, a few days before Lent begins, is how might this Ash Wednesday be different for us? Could it mark our best Lent for years? Could we reach Holy Thursday with real satisfaction, with hand on heart saying that we actually lived Lent this year? What can we do to ensure that the ashes on our forehead this year are much more than just a holy, or indeed unholy, smudge?

One of the most important things to remember during Lent is the forty days Jesus spent in the desert. Forty days is a long time. Imagine over a whole month! Imagine all this time without proper food, and not only that but all this time to be on your own. The desert could be very hot, very cold and very dark. It could be a frightening place. It was worse than this for Jesus because the devil himself came to tease and to torture him. The devil knew that the best time to come and really attack Jesus was when he was tired and hungry. This was the time when the devil came to Jesus. He told Jesus he did not need God. He tried to get Jesus to show off. He tried to get Jesus to behave as if he was greater than God. He promised Jesus great things if he did what he told him to do. Even though Jesus found the temptations from the devil difficult he did not give in because he knew the Father’s love for him was greater than anything. He also knew the Holy Spirit was with him and he knew that with the Holy Spirit on his side he had nothing to fear because nothing or no one, not even death could beat him. Now I am sure you thought of this question, why would this happen to Jesus? Why would something so horrible happen to God’s only Son? Why would God allow this to happen? This is an especially hard question when we remember that God is Love. Well believe it or not, that’s just it. The reason that not only does Jesus suffer in the desert, but also that he suffers most cruelly on the Cross, is Love. The reason why God allows it, is also Love. God loves us so much that he wants to be with us not just on the happy sunny day when we feel we are on the top of the world but on our most horrible of days, when we are cold, lonely and feel that nobody cares. On these days Jesus walks beside us in a special way. This is why Jesus came: to show us that we are loved totally and completely, that sickness, nor suffering, nor death have the final say, and that once we say sorry for our sins, God is delighted to forgive us.

Jesus was tempted in every way that we are but did not sin, so he understands temptation, and how hard it can
be to resist. There is a great opportunity coming up in the next few days. Listen to this for a great deal! You will have to do a little each day, for the next forty days, and it might be a little bit difficult but the reward will be great: you will feel better, you will have helped others and on top of all this you will have pleased God. Where would you get a better deal than that, and don’t forget it’s all free, not a cent will it cost you, as a matter of fact you may well save money. So how does it work?
Twenty/thirty minutes out of your whole day. After all God
has done, and does for you, surely this is not a big ask.
1. Come to Mass, 10am or 7.30 each day.
2. Give up something for Lent. What you save on this, give to someone in need.
3. Experience being hungry, say a little prayer each day, and be good and kind, in a measurable way to someone If you already say a prayer, say another one, preferably for someone you are not naturally drawn to!

So, three steps. Three steps to Heaven!! Or at least three steps for a meaningful Lent. By the way a
meaningful Lent makes for a much better Easter. Why not try it? This is a small investment for an incredible return. Out of this world. Three steps by you and then wait, watch and listen and see how the Lord will outdo you in generosity.


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