Ash Wednesday Reflection
Here in Australia, the huge bushfires of Ash Wednesday began on February 16, 1983, which literally turned the country to ash. Victoria and South Australia suffered extraordinary damage. This year rain is flooding parts of New South Wales and Queensland with downpours that are unprecedented. We have drought followed by floods followed by drought; the seasons of creation in the Australian landscape are often extreme.
Ash Wednesday is the day we begin our preparation for Easter by moving into a time, forty days, which is focused on prayer, fasting giving alms. As human beings, we prepare for important occasions by giving attention to ourselves that we might be ‘our best selves’ when Easter arrives. Just as the land is renewed after a disaster, we hope to be renewed and eschew our personal disasters.
As Christian people, we make an effort to become better people, that is, to become more like Jesus in the way we act and speak. We cultivate our relationship with God through extra prayer or making an effort to say our prayers better. We try to be more generous, that’s why Project Compass comes online in Lent, depending on people being deliberately generous.
Doing the ‘right thing’ - our efforts are meant to bring us into a better relationship with God. Relationship is what Lent promotes. It is easy to obey the rules of Lent and do things but forget the rules are meant to deepen our relationship with God.
The gospels throughout the Sundays of Lent pose questions for us which are meant to lead us into a deeper relationship with God in the Trinity.
Our society has changed a lot in the last 100 years. Once people understood symbolic Christian actions but I doubt if they do today. The winter Olympics have just finished and we have heard about the hard work, sacrifice and dedication of athletes to compete and achieve success.
Yet, Christian asceticism which has a lot in common with sport in terms of dedication, self-denial, and setting goals is viewed as very odd behaviour. People who practice this way of living, ‘doing things for God’ are not understood. What society misses is the connection, not with a gold medal, but a deeper relationship with our personal God.
A few people will be wearing the sign of the cross on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday and people will notice it, you could hardly not notice it! It is a small but significant sign of commitment to Christ for all our neighbours to see. A way of stating that we will die one day, we will become ashes but we will not be forgotten by our Church praying for the dead nor by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with whom we are invited to dwell in their peace and joy.
Columban Fr Gary Walker is currently living at the Columban house in Sandgate, Brisbane.