The words Repent and believe in the Gospel or Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return will be familiar to you. You may consider these refrains used in the liturgy of Ash Wednesday somewhat dispiriting, particularly in the current climate when many of us are almost desperate in our search for positive news and light hearted distractions that remove us from the constant reminder of what is around us and threatens us.
However, they do express our whole hearted desire to return to God, to respond to his plea, ‘Come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning’ for he, as the prophet Joel goes on to explain is ‘all tenderness and compassion, slow to anger, rich in graciousness and ready to relent’ (Joel 2:12-18, 1st reading on Ash Wednesday).
The ashes are an outward sign of an inner conversion and of renewal. If we take the call of repentance and trans-formation from God seriously, then we will also see the value in both fasting and prayer. Jesus went into the desert where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. He endured this before he embarked on his public ministry. If we are serious about responding to God’s will as his disciples of good news, then we need to prepare well as our Lord and Saviour did, for there will certainly be challenges in the form of temptation from the evil one who is intent on undermining God’s plan of salvation. We can be sure that the devil will do his utmost to weaken our resolve to pray and fast, but remember just as Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, so we too must allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit who will give us the strength to resist all that would oppose God’s will for us.