“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church to an observance of a holy Lent.”
This year, these words that I have said almost every Ash Wednesday for more than a quarter of a century sound different to me.
That’s because it doesn’t feel like we are beginning Lent today; it feels like we’ve been in an endless Lent for the past 11 months, and there is no clear end in sight.
Ash Wednesday is a day we are reminded of our own mortality with those ancient words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
None of us need reminders of mortality this year. All we have to do is turn on the news and watch as the death toll from the pandemic creeps closer to 500,000 of our fellow citizens. This year, when even a trip to the grocery store feels like a dangerous mission, we are surrounded by reminders of death every day.
There are many ways to observe Lent, to spiritually prepare oneself for Easter. One of the most common is giving up something you care about, a form of discipline to remind ourselves that things — food, drink, tv, internet access — are not at the center of our lives, that they do not control us.
But this year, the idea of asking anyone to give up something for Lent seems just wrong. We’ve already given up so much — family gatherings, nights out with friends, going to church, being in classrooms and offices, going to restaurants, movie theaters, concerts, baseball games.
We have been denied the people and things that give us joy and meaning for far too long.
So I’m asking you to not give up anything for Lent. Do not deny yourself the things still in your life that give you pleasure. Don’t give up anything else.
But I will ask this of you — don’t give up this Lent. We have been in the wilderness a long time. But don’t give up.
Don’t give up hope. Don’t give up joy. Don’t give up gratitude. Don’t give up on God.
Instead look for these things in your life. They are there, or the opportunities for them are. These are the places we will find God. These are the things that will give us the strength to continue in this wilderness for however much longer it lasts.
So in the name of the Church I invite you to a holy Lent.
Don’t give up.