We are now almost halfway through Lent. Perhaps we should stop and analyze how we are progressing as it is very important we have the right attitude.

Why we do what we do helps us to fashion our lives as instruments for God’s love in this world. Lent is an important liturgical season, but many fail to realize its significance.

There are some who approach Lent as if they were embracing Jenny Craig. I’ve heard some say, “Thank God, Lent is here. I need to lose a few pounds, so I’ll give up sweets.”

I’ve also heard someone say fish is a favorite food and it seems that the selection is better during Lent than during the rest of the year. Not much substance to abstinence; no sacrifice here.

So when someone asked me, “Archbishop, do you know why I like Lent?” I expected one of those “it serves my personal preference” answers. Instead, the person said, “Every day during Lent is a challenge to live a holy life. It gives me the opportunity to be the person God wants me to be.”
What a great answer!

The liturgical season of Lent gives us an opportunity to break from the routine and make God the focal point of our lives.
It begins on Ash Wednesday by receiving the mark of ashes in the form of a cross. But, unfortunately, even the ashes are becoming a fashion statement rather than a true act of penance.

Once, when I was a newly ordained priest, a man came up to me in the Communion line on Ash Wednesday. I held the Eucharist before him and said, “The Body of Christ.” He looked at me quizzically and said, “Father, don’t you have any of those ashes?”

“Ashes are distributed after Mass,” I said.

He shook his head in disappointment and walked away from the Body of Christ looking for ashes which are obviously less demanding. Yet, the Body and Blood of Christ are what we are all about, given for us for the remission of our sins.

I guess we have to add one more tangential relationship to the faith. “Christers” are those who attend services at Christmas and Easter and now we have “Ashers” — those who seek the mark of ashes but do not understand the significance of ashes as a sign of repentance.

However, I am grateful they have some faith that compels them to receive ashes just like I am grateful that “Christers” come to church at Christmas and Easter.

But given the bombardment of the secular society on religion, I know this practice will not sustain or protect them. The external ashes are not a good luck charm that frees us from our responsibility to live a committed Christian life. It might make us feel good for a moment, but that passes as soon as the ashes wear off.
Lent is an opportunity to live that holy life. Not only are we using the areas of prayer, penance and almsgiving to fulfill our Lenten obligations, but we are fashioning our lives, reminding ourselves a price was paid to ransom us from sin and death, saving us from utter destruction.

Lent gives us the time to be grateful, because we walk the road to Calvary with Jesus and embrace his sacrificial love.

In this Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, Lent encourages us to practice mercy by examining the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Many are already performing various works, but now we have an ability to connect why we do these good works and for whom we perform them.

Our missionary of Mercy, Fr. Ken Omernick, gives us beautiful insights into each act of mercy. He offers his own practical experiences and ways to fulfill the spiritual or corporal works of mercy. Just click on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee Year of Mercy website (http://tinyurl.com/zuaotge) and you will encounter a short video presentation by a knowledgeable and gentle teacher who will help you grow in your spiritual life. Don’t deny yourself the presentation of this gifted spiritual guide.
With all the craziness taking place in our society, the Year of Mercy offers an oasis calling us to exercise what is best in us, helping us to see our oneness and our solidarity with our brothers and sisters rather than using our language and actions to divide us. We are capable of changing the world as we minster to one soul at a time. It begins with us in prayer and leads us to reach out to our brothers and sisters.

We are halfway through Lent and if we find ourselves slipping away from our Lenten commitments, realize it’s not too late; we can revitalize our efforts. But please start with reconciliation (confession) and be honest before God, ask for his forgiveness and make a firm resolution to live for Christ in the world.

On Ash Wednesday you accepted the sign of the cross in the form of ashes. This was a sign of your willingness to represent him to the world. Together we continue the rest of our Lenten journey to Calvary in order to witness his love for us.