" You are merciful to all, O Lord,
and despise nothing that you have made.
You overlook people's sins, to bring them to repentance,
and you spare them, for you are the Lord our God. "
Wisdom 11: 24, 25, 27
These are the words of the Entrance Antiphon for the Ash Wednesday Liturgy. On this day we begin the journey through the desert experience of Lent that will bring us to the life giving waters of baptismal renewal at Easter. Our journey begins with our being signed with ashes, reminding us that in our human frailty we are nothing, and that through our sinfulness we have walked away from grace and have chosen the emptiness of death. But that signing is embraced with a joy and a hope rooted in the promise of the Lord our God, who is most merciful and who loves all that he has made. Lent is that moment of renewed trust is that promise and reliance upon his grace to do as we are reminded by the words spoken to us as we are signed:
REPENT, AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.
These next forty days are an opportunity to acknowledge our nothingness apart from God, the death that our sinfulness brings into our existence, and the love that God has for us as he entrusts his Gospel to our lives. To believe and embrace that Good News of his love and to repent and transform and renew our lives of faith is what Lent is all about. How we go about doing this in this great season is up to us, but we are given hints as to the direction to take. The Collect for today's Mass says:
"Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting,
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint."
In our Catholic culture of "giving up things" for Lent, I was struck by the words and the invitation above to rather enter into a "campaign of Christian service" in these next forty days that will bring us to grace and bring blessings to God's people. Every day make a concerted effort to be of service to others in the name and spirit of Christ. Walk in his mercy and love. Be prepared to grow in the joy of the Lord.