Immediately after his baptism – in fact, right after God the Father spoke the words, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” – “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry.” (John 4:1-2) Jesus spent forty days in the desert, fasting and disciplining Himself. At the end of the forty days the devil came to Him to tempt Him.
The Church celebrates Lent so that we may voluntarily unite ourselves to Jesus in the same discipline: forty days of fasting (Sundays are not included as they are feast days celebrating the Resurrection, not fast days) and warring against the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We do not commit to a complete fast (no food), as we are not Jesus and Lent is not a contest to see who can give up the most. The key is to be “led by the Spirit” as Jesus was; to fast those things that the Holy Spirit brings to our minds as the things we run to or depend upon instead of Him.
In the Old Testament ashes were used to express grief and sorrow for sins. Job, when confronted by God after declaring his innocence, responds: ” I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5–6) The Church uses ashes made by burning completely the palm leaves blessed and waved on Palm Sunday the previous year. This reminds us that the same people who cried, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord!” shortly thereafter cried, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” just as loudly. We are no less vulnerable to sin than they.
Dear Father, guide us through this holy Lent that we may be conformed to the image of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Help us to put on the full armour of God, and lead us in the power of Your Holy Spirit to put to death the lies of satan, the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches which so often keep us from being the people You have called us to be. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
Remember, o man [or woman], that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Repent, and believe the Gospel!