When my dad coached us all in Little League, he would often use the image of a radio to get us to pay attention: “Tune into the baseball channel” he would urge us as we took infield practice before a game.
Lent helps us tune our ears to that reality: we need to tune ourselves in for the next forty days to the Lenten Channel that calls us to be something different by the time Holy Week comes around.
The first step in this tuning is to rub ash/dirt on our foreheads today to make real the reality that this day – this season – needs to be about conversion. We do have smudges in our lives.
Of course, when we leave here, the truth is that we will go home and clean the ashes off: but the questions will remains – the challenge to conversion will remain.
There is a danger in thinking of Ash Wednesday as a one-day sale: when Paul wrote “now is the day of salvation,” he was talking about entering into a process of constant salvation and conversion – each of our day has the potential to be a day of salvation.
And so, as the ashes disappear, I’d like to share with all of us here an image to which we could return day after day during Lent – and an image that we can focus in a special way when we walk into this church.
I’d compare each our lives to a stained glass window, just like the ones we see here:
We are each unique and wonderfully made by the Creator,
But, we can only reach the fullness of brightness and beauty when cleaned and turned towards the light.
This is, I think, the hard work of Lent: we begin our journey today of cleaning the windows of our lives, but also turning ourselves in an intentional way toward the light of God.
Let’s be clear: getting rid of sin isn’t the only thing that Lent is about. It’s not just about the smudges: it’s also about the light.
This is because being a Christian isn’t just about saying “no,” about just giving things up. For the smudges that we wipe out will return. And, as soon as we think we’ve worked out one thing, another comes up.
I think as we go about our Lent, let’s just focus on one smudge: maybe it’s gossip, cursing, telling little lies we think are harmless, maybe it’s the silent judgment of someone in our home or at work, whatever it is, let’s focus on that smudge and ask the Lord earnestly and honestly to help us clean it.
And in this process of asking, let us turn toward the light: let us turn toward the light of Sunday mass, coming to Confession on a Wednesday night in Lent, making it a practice to join the community for the Stations of the Cross or Mass on Friday evening.
Let’s do this: cleaning up smudges and turning toward the light of God that is present in our lives. Let’s not wait another day to do this. Now is the time, now is the day of salvation: let us use this Lent to turn toward the light. Why? To get ready for the light – the Son – who will turn to us at Easter.