“It’s LENT! Aren’t you excited?”
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight got muffled laughs and a few odd looks from Ash Wednesday congregants in the Cathedral of St. Joseph.
“Who doesn’t love discipline, sacrifice, penance?” the bishop persisted.
He said he loves Lent and everything that goes with it for one reason: “Because without Lent, we can’t have Easter.”
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Church’s 40-day season of repentance leading up to the 40-day celebration of Jesus’s passion, death and Resurrection.
Bishop McKnight and deacons of the parish traced ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of all who came forward.
The ashes are a public acknowledgement of human mortality, the constant need for God’s mercy, and a desire to repent and receive the Good News of salvation.
The bishop spoke in his homily of the three pillars of Lent: praying, fasting and giving alms.
Echoing Jesus’s warning not to pray, fast or give alms in order to be noticed by other people, Bishop McKnight urged everyone to be subtle in their Lenten observances and “be holy in your motives.”
He noted that fasting can include abstaining from favorite foods, TV or electronic devices or “something else you love.”
“Because it’s not really a sacrifice unless you give up something you love,” he asserted.
He called to mind the First Commandment, which forbids bowing down in subservience of anything other than God.
“There can be no other gods in our life,” the bishop said. “That can mean too much Internet, too much time on your phone, too much of anything that comes between you and God.”
Almsgiving traditionally refers to making a sacrificial offering to the poor, but Bishop McKnight said it can also mean being kind and of service to others without expecting anything in return.
Prayer is what keeps all of these things focused on God, he said.