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Apostolic Movement

40 Days of a God-given adventure begin

By: Fr. Carlos Padilla Esteban

Lent begins and I think of God’s tenderness and mercy. This time at the desert is a time of mercy. God looks at me tenderly, compassionately and loves me as I am, unconditionally. He comes into my life so that my life may change and become a better one.

On Ash Wednesday, a new journey through the desert begins. Why do I need the ashes to make this journey? I could begin without needing anyone placing them on my head. The ashes speak to me of death, of oblivion, of consumed fire, of a shattered life, of loneliness, of helplessness. What is the purpose of having ashes placed on my head? Why do I need them?

Why do we receive ashes at the beginning of Lent?

And then I read a poem that sheds some light on this first day of my Lent: “My days are green leaves. Leaves that fall every autumn. They are trees that rise and roots that are buried. My present is past, and my future is history. I can never undo the steps already taken; I can only take new paths. Learning is always possible, unlearning hurts deeply. Forgetting sometimes happens, other times memories hurt. I don’t know how to start reweaving the days. After the cruel defeats, after the death that gives life. Someone reminds me then that only dying saves me and he who loves gives life. That is what it means to be born again. Dying a bit in order to give life again”.

It is then that I understand the meaning of these ashes. One day they were green olive branches laid at the feet of Jesus. When he entered Jerusalem ready to give his life. Now they are blessed ashes. They remind me of what my life is like. Today a green shoot, tomorrow there is only oblivion. That is why it is good for me to receive the ashes, because I have an exaggerated tendency to forget. I no longer remember my defeats and I believe that I will always win – green branches, steady green leaves on the branch.

This time at the desert is not a time of sorrow, but of happiness

As I am small, I need the strength of this ashes

The ashes show me that my life is fleeting and dies. Life that does not surrender and die to give life, is not worthwhile. I clothe myself with this ash that does not embellish, but makes me humbler, poorer. It is a strange ash that fills my soul with light. I need to begin this time at the desert, this time of Lent, these forty days. Without this reality of love that surrenders, dies, and gives its life, it would make no sense to walk barefoot in the desert of Lent. I do not forget then what is important: I am not God; I am only human. I am meager and I cannot do everything by myself.

I walk barefoot through this desert covered with ashes, I remember then that I am a child, that I am a son, that I am in need and that I have a longing for infinity engraved in my soul. As I receive the ashes, I hear that I am dust and that I will become dust. And then I stop worrying about so many things that take away my peace: Why do I burden myself so much?

Littleness is the sonhood I have received since birth. If I am a son, I need an almighty Father to give me life. And since I am small, I need the strength of this ash that reminds me who I am.

Why do we live this time of Lent?

Albert Espinosa remarks: “Inside every little coward there is a great brave man. Everything will turn out well. If you contemplate life up close, sometimes it doesn’t make sense. You must step back a bit and look at it from afar, with a big smile”. Lent helps me to move some distance from my life in order to contemplate it with meaning. In that arch that leads from my birth to death. Then the problems are not that serious and life is so much more than the current fears.

I just need to believe more in Jesus, in his Word and change my life, grow, be better. That is why this time is given to me. And the ash only blesses me. It is like that gaze of God that rests on me to tell me how valuable I am in his eyes. I am nothing, I am small and at the same time I am the greatest treasure that God can contemplate. The ashes teach me not to limit my horizon. I expand it, it is much wider. I am made for heaven as I walk in the dust of the desert on my way to Easter.

*Excerpt from the Homily for the First Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2021. Download the full text, in Spanish, here.


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