‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’
As we receive the ashes on our foreheads, we are reminded of this. To those of us who have been seriously ill, it is not a reminder we need, because it is present before us much of the time. But Lent is not about feeling guilty, it is about repentance and receiving forgiveness God loves us – always – his hands remain outstretched, and he is grieved by our sin, and wants us to repent and return to him; this is a season when we can – if we will – focus on this. We ask God to create a pure heart within us, because we know that only the pure in heart shall see God. We begin by acknowledging what the Prayer Book calls ‘our manifold sins and wickedness’, and we repent of our sins, knowing that this is the road toward forgiveness and spiritual health. Often, in this society, we are reluctant to accept bodily infirmity, we demand there is some drug, some treatment which will make us well again, despite knowing that sometimes the so-called side effects of drugs can actually make us worse. We feel we have some ‘right’ to be well. But focus as we do on the body, we so often forget the spirit.
Surveying the interesting to and fros here the past few days, it seems to me that we see something of this here. I am unashamedly emotional about my faith, I feel it deeply, and I love Our Lady who represents to me not only the Mother of the Church, but the mother I never knew in my own life. I can speak only for me, but when I love, I do not always reason everything through, and I am not very literal in my language. I daresay that if someone parsed and examined my words, they could show that I was exaggerating – my loved one was not the ‘most wonderful man in the world’, and that when I said I would ‘love him forever’, that was not a very precise use of language. OK, guilty as charged, and let the person who, when in love, has not used poetic language because it expressed what they thought best, throw that first stone.
It is, of course, quite impossible to explain why you love someone. As I look back to my own failed marriage, I see a lot of warning signs to which I was quite blind at the time; if someone had pointed them out to me then, I should not have believed them. Why should I mark Lent by the receiving of ashes? Why should I fast? Is this not just surface religion? Yes and no. It is important for me that I have some road signs by which to guide myself, and they have to be where I can see them. But they are, I hope, the outward and invisible sign of Grace moving me. Can I prove that? No, not a bit of it. Should I, therefore, abandon the attempt? No, not a bit of it.
Why, because it is good to remind myself daily that this is a season of penitence. Do I have a lot to be sorry for? My confessor used to remind me that there was such a thing as over scrupulosity, and I have taken his words into my heart. But I can do penance for the sins of the world, I can offer up what I do for the sins of others. Just as I can pray for those who have no one else to pray for them.
This is not, I agree, a very rational approach, and I am sure that some would see in all of this an over-emotional young woman with too much time on her hands. I am equally sure that Our Lady, like her Son, knows that love brings forth love – and love is not rational. My heart sometimes outstrips my head – it’s why I love St Peter so much. In his impetuousness I see something I can recognise – and love him, flaws and all. But there I go again – where in the Bible does it say I should feel like this about Peter, or St John, or Mary. Nowhere – and everywhere, because to be in God is to love, and love begets love and overflows.
On this penitential day, I just want to remind us all that our faith is of God, and he is love, and he calls us to repent and be healed. A holy and edifying Lent to you all.