Ash Wednesday is a stark reminder that the status quo is not a Christian option.
When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and fell from grace, it seemed that all was lost, and God had turned His back on the human person. In truth, though God let Adam and Eve live out their faulty 'choice' in the consequences of their poorly used freedom, it was Adam and Eve who turned their back on God in original sin, since God never turns His back on us, as 'God is Love.'
Lent, therefore, is the revolutionary grace which wakes us up, from sin to Life, in Jesus Christ.
"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment." Joel 2:12-18
Repentance has become a disparaged image through Hollywood depictions of the cranky old man (with the 'John 3:16' sign), harassing city dwellers as they parade through their 'happy' life.
But this couldn't be further from the truth!
Lent is meant to be the joyous season in which we realize that all those worldly things that keep us from God really don't make us happy; repentance, therefore, is not an act of a crank, but the joyous act of the human person truly liberated in God's Love. Likewise, conversion is not a drunken, or hypnotic, state which leads gullible people to cult-like-religion; rather, conversion is turning from the emptiness of evil, while running to the Prodigal Father that we have always longed for.
Lent is the joyous season of repentance, and conversion, in the revolutionary Spirit of Jesus.
"Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness; in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense. Thoroughly wash me from my guilt and of my sin cleanse me." Psalm 51:3-6, 12-14, 17
Sometimes, people try to explain the Lenten season with a special emphasis on human sinfulness. All is dark, all is sin. But this is an incomplete look at the beautiful reality of Lent. Yes, we are sinners! But God is Merciful, and no matter how broken we are, God can, and will, build us up--more beautiful than ever--if only we let Him.
Just look at the Crucified, and Risen, Jesus.
Though without sin, Jesus, in His humanity, submitted to the Will of the Father, and drank the cup of wrath at Gethsemane, becoming the broken Victim par excellence; yet, broken, seemingly unrepairable in the tomb, three days later He Rose in Perfection through Divine Mercy.
Lenten grace rolls the stone away from our tomb--found in our sins, our past, and our worries.
"Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says: In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you. Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation." 2 Corinthians 5:20--6:2
Lent is sort of like the practice season for a sports team before the real season begins. Actually, there is no practice season in life; God does, however, train us for a season, or two, as He tests and refines us for the purpose of participating in the Mission of the Messiah, as the Body of Christ in the Church.
Lent, therefore, is a special season of walking baby-steps in God's grace.
Just look at St. Therese of Lisieux, who became a Doctor of the Church through very little, very humble, acts of faith, hope, and charity. Lent is not for the bold, but for the humble. For we are sinners, but for God 'nothing is impossible.'
"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father." Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
Lent is not only a time to become more intimate with Jesus, but to become more like Jesus. This, truly, is the most monumental task of the season, but also the most grace filled. Jesus, in His teaching of the Beatitudes, wants us to become less of an external-only monument of God's Law, and more of the internal Spirit of His Love. This does not mean hiding the Truth, and spiritualizing our faith. This means, rather, letting the Holy Spirit become our guide, while walking God's Love enfleshed in the Life of Jesus Christ.
For Catholics, this is the essence of the Eucharist. For non-Catholics, this is the gospel come alive! For both, hopefully united one day, this is the revolutionary Spirit of Christianity, especially found in the Lenten season.