We call it a season, a journey, a pilgrimage, a spiritual exercise, an opportunity, and in the Collect of today's Mass, Lent is called a campaign. In our diocese we already have a campaign called the Diocesan Lenten Appeal, asking for financial support for the work of the local Church. Our sacrifice allows others to be helped and find blessing. The campaign spoken of in the Collect is a "campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint." But this campaign is vastly different in at least two ways: first, one is about the money to make the ministry happen and the other is about the ministry itself flowing from us; and secondly, this campaign is about service to others, giving of time and talent and treasure in the most loving of ways, so that, while God's people are blessed, our lives are strengthened with spiritual grace. Thus strengthened, we are empowered to step forward and as Paul said in the second reading today, to be ambassadors of Christ.
Many came this morning to be signed with ashes. The phone has not stopped ringing with inquiries about our other services. People step forward on days like Ash Wednesday and publicly "wear their faith on their sleeve (or in this case on their forehead). We have a strong Catholic population in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and so this witness is not surprising. But the key will be to not just receive ashes, to not just make this Wednesday special, to not just "give up" things (except for sin), but to do - charity, love, outreach, ministry, concern, prayer. This will make Lent, this Lent in particular, a very special and powerful experience of grace and favor. Happy LENT!