Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent 2015. Lent is a time of liturgical preparation for the celebration of the Paschal Mystery during the days of the Holy Triduum. However, it’s purpose is not limited to actions to get us ready for yet another remembrance of these holy and saving truths of the faith. Rather, Lent, like the other liturgical seasons of the year each in their own proper way, stands as a sign of the journey of the Christian towards his ultimate participation in the communion of Heaven.
The season of Lent marks the beginning of the most intense period of preparation for those who are in the catechumenate, and who desire Baptism at Easter. Baptism is that sacrament, which incorporates each Christian into the mystical body of Christ and frees us from original sin. Make no mistake about it, this incorporation is a gift we could never earn or deserve; like all grace, it is the unmerited gift of God to man. Nevertheless, for this grace to be efficacious in our lives, we must not put up walls against its operation. Because of this Baptism, if we intend to receive the full effect of God’s grace, places conditions upon us. For us to become a perfect part of the body of Christ, we first must undergo the death of our wills so that that Christ’s will becomes our own wills; otherwise, we become a cell in Christ’s body which works against the whole. This is what St. Paul means when he writes:
“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”
Just as Christ did not rise to glory without Good Friday, so also we must die to ourselves if we are to rise with Him in glory. This is why those
in the Catechumenate undergo an increasingly intense period of Spiritual preparation as they approach the Easter Sacraments. The promises of Baptism are not easy to live out; on the contrary, as Paul indicates they demand nothing less than total self-gift in imitation of the Crucified Lord. By the period of preparation, the Church eases the catechumens into the responsibilities which they will undertake when they make their profession of faith at the Easter Vigil.
But Lent and its ascetical practices are not meant only for the Catechumens. Because our wills are free, malleable, and under the influence of concupiscence even those of us who have been baptized are in need of further purification of the will. Each day we are confronted with moments where we can choose to do our own selfish will or surrender our will to the will of Christ. The Christian is called to the later in every situation, since by baptism, he has been made another Christ in that he acts as a member of Christ’s body. This renunciation of our selfish will and the acceptance of Christ’s will in our lives should not be seen as limiting our freedom, but rather as the supreme act of a free human person, who “cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.”
Seen in this context, Lent is the Church’s annual checkup point for all her sons and daughters. She asks us, along with the Catechumens to consider how well we are dying to our own wills, and offers a penitential season as a way of helping us to strengthen our resolve to act only in accord with the will of the Lord. Let us make the prayer of the Collect for the Mass of Ash Wednesday our own:
Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition (Washington, DC: National Council of Churches of Christ, 1993), Ro 6:3–4.
 Catholic Church, “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World: Gaudium Et Spes,” in Vatican II Documents (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2011).
 The Roman Missal: Renewed by Decree of the Most Holy Second Ecumenical Council of the Vatican, Promulgated by Authority of Pope Paul VI and Revised at the Direction of Pope John Paul II, Third Typical Edition (Washington D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), 209.