And so what are we to make as we come to the end of this first, abbreviated week in Lent? Ash Wednesday stands out in some ways from the rest of Lent. We fast, we pray, we attend Mass and leave with a smudge of ashes on our foreheads.
And then what?
As Fr. Pavlik suggested yesterday, Ash Wednesday presents us with a crossroads. There is the time before Ash Wednesday, and the time after. It's much the same as how Jesus' disciples must have felt after meeting Him for the first time. There was the time before Christ, and the time after. And, Fr. Pavlik said, it forces us to make a choice.
We can, as the words of Ash Wednesday say, turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
Or we can return to our past lives of sin and selfishness, of failing to live Christ's words in our lives.
I like this image of our decision-time being a crossroads, for what better word to use than cross? Christ came to that moment of decision, His Agony in the Garden, his crossroads. And in fact He picked up His Cross and began His journey.
Time and time again we are presented with the choice. Moses tells the Israelites they must decide - turn back or move ahead. Christ tells the rich young man to give up his possessions and "follow Me." Again and again, He invites us to pick up our own crosses and do just that, follow Him.
Well, here's our chance. It's not our only opportunity - for that matter, every day is filled with moments when we can choose to live our lives in conformity to His will - but it is a golden opportunity. We can go ahead to the promised land, to the indescribable place that Paul writes of. Or we can step back, refuse to take the plunge, return to our old ways of sin. We can walk forward in faith to a new life, or we can stay rooted in our current life, the life of material things and ways. We can choose the hereafter, or the here-and-now, the City of God or the city of man.
We have aids to help us with this choice, but in the end it's our choice to make. God, ever the Gentleman, will not force Himself on us. In one of the great mysteries of creation, the granting of free will, He has left it to us to make the final choice. And so, as Fr. Pavlik concluded yesterday's homily, so I will conclude now. Ash Wednesday has concluded, and now begins the rest of Lent, and perhaps the rest of our lives. It is our decision to make.
We can go back, or we can go forward.
Speaking of Christ's Agony being His Crossroad, last year (when I seemed to have more time than I do now), I wrote a series of brief meditations on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries and their relation to Lent. For any of you who might be interested, I'll link to them each Friday from now through Easter, beginning with this piece on the First Sorrowful Mystery.