Ash Wednesday signals the beginning of Lent, proclaiming a time of prayer, fasting, acceptance again of the good news Jesus came to proclaim, and a deeper commitment in prayer and service to one another and beyond – to the world community and all of creation.
As we journey with Jesus towards the celebration of Easter and the joy of the resurrection, we are invited to remember again our identity and dignity as Christians in the light of our baptism. It was baptism that named and claimed us as Christians, calling us to identify with Jesus and his good news. The God of Jesus is a God of infinite tenderness and compassion who longs to be close to us and present to us in all of life’s experiences: the joys, the hopes, the griefs and anxieties, the isolations and the vibrant communities, the successes and failures.
In very recent times we have been challenged and overwhelmed by the devastating bushfires that have resulted in the loss of human life, the destruction of our flora and fauna, and the wiping out of businesses, family homes and livelihoods. It has been heartening to see the responses of so many people from a variety of backgrounds initiating events and activities to express concern and show solidarity to those most affected by putting their gifts and talents at the service of the community to raise much-needed funds to enable people to get back on their feet. Despite the absolute burnt-out look of forests, it is possible to see fragile signs of new life, with leaves sprouting tentatively, and at times wrapping themselves around charred branches. The image of the phoenix rising from the ashes is a reminder of hope for new life and the tenacity of those determined to start again. In this process, buoyed by the solidarity and support of many people, those most affected and grieving will be able to take steps to recover and rebuild. It is both heartening and consoling to observe the very public acknowledgement of such griefs and that people seem drawn together to support one another in making some kind of sense of things.
In our Church, Lent is a time for consciously journeying together with renewed purpose and desire to ‘come and see’ where the Lord resides, and to be with Him on this journey. For catechumens, those preparing to be initiated into the Catholic community at Easter time, this Lent is a significant time for being with the community, pondering the Scriptures, and deepening their relationship with and knowledge of the Lord.
In our Archdiocese during Lent, there is an opportunity in each deanery for parishes to come together to celebrate a stational Mass. This practice echoes a custom in the early Church where the Pope, as Bishop of Rome, would journey in pilgrimage to all the stational churches to mark the season of Lent with his people. All are invited to participate in these stational Masses. Perhaps this year, we may consider doing so as an expression of solidarity with those most deeply affected by recent events, and in a spirit of thanksgiving for all of creation in its beauty and fragility. As the phoenix rises from the ashes, so too, we will rise with Christ at Easter.
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