Talking about the what’s and why’s of Lent


“Jesus forgave us of our sins so that we could go somewhere with him. Where do we want to go with Jesus?”

Hands all over St. Stanislaus Church in Wardsville flew into the air.

“Heaven!” a student called out.

 “Yes! We want to go to heaven with Jesus,” said Monsignor David Cox.

“And if we’re going to go to heaven with Jesus, that means we’re going to have to walk with Jesus here on this earth.”

Msgr. Cox, pastor of St. Stanislaus Parish and of St. Margaret of Antioch Parish in Osage Bend, celebrated an all-school Mass the morning of Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday.

Father James Finder, a retired priest of the diocese who lives in Osage Bend, concelebrated.

They wore purple vestments, the official color of the season.

Msgr. Cox’s homily consisted mostly of a lively dialogue with the students in the pews about the significance of Ash Wednesday and the 40 days that follow.

“You’re gonna’ get ashes on your head, in the shape of a cross!” he told them. “What do ashes on your head symbolize?”

He hinted that they’re a symbol “that we’re sorry for something.”

“We’re sorry for our sins,” a student told him.

“Right!” said Msgr. Cox. “So for these next many days, we’re going to be thinking about our sinfulness, because we want to remember somebody who forgave us of our sins.”

Who is that somebody?

“Jesus!” said the student the priest called on.

“Yes! We want to remember Jesus!” said Msgr. Cox. “And how did Jesus forgive us of our sins?”

He suffered and died on the cross.

“So we are going to spend these days thinking about what a great gift that is because God loves us so much that Jesus died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins,” the priest stated.

Lent is the Church’s season of penance to prepare for the Easter Truduum, the celebration of Jesus’s sacrificial death and resurrection.

Further questioning yielded the reason for 40 days — namely, the time Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry.

“So, for these next 40 days, we’re going to be praying, fasting and giving alms, so that we can love and serve Jesus better,” Msgr. Cox stated.

He talked further about those three main focuses of Lenten discipline for Catholics.

“What is almsgiving?” he asked. “It’s giving money to people who need it, which is an act of charity.”

He emphasized, as did the Gospel reading, that the purpose of praying and giving is not for show but to grow in deeper relationship with God.

He noted that fasting refers to giving something up — food or something else.

“What kind of things do you give up?” he asked.

Students offered several suggestions.

“But what if I’m giving up candy and soda and I’m like, ‘Ugh! I’ve got 38 days more to go! Man!’ — is that the way you’re supposed to give it up?” the priest asked.

“No! We want to be happy that we’re giving it up because it helps us grow in our friendship with Jesus,” he stated.

“We give things up not necessarily because they’re bad,” he said. “but because it reminds us of somebody that we love, right?”

Specifically, love often means making a sacrifice.

“And we want to love Jesus,” said Msgr. Cox, “because he has made the ultimate sacrifice for us, right?

“Jesus suffered and died on the cross so that we could be forgiven of our sins.”

But Jesus didn’t stay dead. He rose from the dead on that first Easter Sunday.

“So, when we get to Easter, we want to be able to recognize what a great gift Jesus gave to us in forgiving our sins,” the priest told the children.

“We wear that cross of ashes on our forehead today to remind us that we are still sinners, and that we need to ask for God’s forgiveness,” he stated.

“So, we ask the Lord to bless our efforts and to help us keep our hearts and minds focused on loving and serving Jesus,” he said.

He then blessed the ashes, made from burning the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday.

The people then came forward to have ashes traced onto their foreheads in the shape of a cross.

Msgr. Cox, Fr. Finder and the others who distributed ashes stated: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”