“Let us begin this holy season of Lent,” Bishop W. Shawn McKnight stated at an early morning Mass for Ash Wednesday in the Cathedral of St. Joseph. “Let it be a fruitful time for us spiritually, as we acknowledge our need for God.”
The day marks the beginning of Lent, the Church’s 40-day season of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in preparation to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection at Easter.
Bishop McKnight, along with Father Louis Nelen, pastor of the Cathedral parish, and assisting deacons, placed ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of the people.
The bishop noted that being marked with ashes is not a sign of righteousness, but an acknowledgment of personal sinfulness and the need for repentance.
“Yes, we are people of an Easter faith,” he stated. “But we only grow closer to God when we recognize our sinfulness and our dependence upon God.”
The bishop said sin is the struggle with that dependence — “the desire to go our own way, to determine our own values of what is right and what is wrong.”
He said Lent is a time to focus on turning away from sin and embracing Jesus’ cross in daily life, while looking forward to His resurrection.
Toward that end, the Church observes certain corporate Lenten penances, such as abstaining from meat on Fridays and fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Catholics are also encouraged to take on additional sacrifices, as an aid to recognizing the need for repentance and believing in the Good News of Jesus Christ.
In Scripture, Jesus advises extra prayer, almsgiving and fasting, in private and for the right reasons.
Bishop McKnight suggested turning personal sacrifices into alms for people in need through programs such as CRS Rice Bowl.
“Hopefully,” he added, “all of us will hear the call of our Lord, personally, to be quiet enough in our busy lives to spend more time with Him in prayer.”