"When the news reached the King of Nineveh he rose from his throne, laid aside his robe covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. Then he had this proclaimed throughtout Nineveh, by decree of the king and his nobles: 'Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil waysand from violence in hand.' When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” (Jonah 3: 6-8; 10)
The season of Lent has quickly come upon us, beginning with Ash Wednesday. Sometimes people may think that the ashes received on their foreheads is just a reminder that we are dust and to dust we shall return. This is true; however, there is a deeper meaning behind them. Back in the time of Jonah, sackcloth and ashes was a sign to show that one has repented of sinful ways and is expressing sorrow for the sins committed. In the season of Lent, Christ himself is calling us to repentance, and just as Christ died on the cross for us to give us life, so we too, must die with him to our sinful ways, in order to gain new life in Christ which began with our Baptism. “If water springing up from the earth symbolizes life, the water of the sea is a symbol of death and so can represent the mystery of the cross, By this symbolism Baptism signifies communion with Christ's death” (CCC 1220).
If we repent but still struggle with bad habits, there is no need to panic for “God must give man a new heart. Conversion is first of all a work of the grace of God who makes our hearts return to him” (CCC 1432). Many times we may wonder why God would allow us to have flaws or weaknesses even after having turned our hearts to God with efforts to make amends for our short comings. However, God allows us to have these weaknesses for a few reasons. First, it helps us to remain humble, not trusting in our own efforts. Secondly, it can be a source of spiritual growth for those around us, in ways that we cannot see or understand. Thirdly, God uses them that by knowing our weaknesses and flaws, we rely on with His grace to change us. And this can take a whole life time. Repentance and daily conversion, growing in holiness and always turning to God are life long processes not a one time deal. One thing that is certain is the infathomable mercy of God who patiently and anxiously waits to forgive us, to teach us the errors of our ways and to give us the grace to rise and move forward in His love. So be patient with yourself.
As we receive our ashes on Ash Wednesday let us ask God to give us new hearts, “Restore us to Thyself, O Lord, that we may be restored! God gives us the strength to begin anew” (CCC 1432). Let us take this great season of mercy to come back to God full of repentance and ask him to forgive our sins; especially in the Sacrament of Confession. May he bring us closer to his Son who has conquered all sin and death so that we too, can share the mercy we have received from God with others.