Having faith, taking part in religious rituals and traditions, belonging to a faith community has always made me feel most alive, that's one of the reasons my faith is so important to me, why I couldn't imagine life without it.
In multi-cultural New York where I live, when you walk into a store on Ash Wednesday with ashes on your forehead as I did today, the clerk looks at you strangely and then asks, "What do you have on your forehead?" And so the explanation begins as I wait for my coffee, "For Catholics, today is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Season of Lent, a time of sacrifice, deep prayer, penance and self-reflection.........This Lent I will give up cookies and cake as I always do, but I'm adding a few other things as well. I've added "skinny vanilla lattes" which I love. You know that I love God, if I'm giving up lattes for 40 days!
The homilist at today's Mass gave a simple homily on the words of today's Scripture readings, which is always best. Ash Wednesday is a teachable moment, the Church is full, it's good for a homilist to make the most of it. "Go towards God and away from sin. Repent from all that keeps you from growing closer to God." From the Prophet Joel, "Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping......" Thankfully the first reading ended with these words, "Then the Lord was stirred to concern for his land and took pity on his people." And so once again, this Lent, we beg for God's mercy and love. Where would we be without God's mercy and love? No where.
Pope Benedict wrote this about faith, "Faith actually looks to God with determination and thus impels us in turn to look to God and set out towards God."
Setting out towards God with determination, seeking God's mercy, forgiveness and love is a good way to begin Lent.