We live in an age of much anger and confrontation. We see that expressed in everything from ISIS to mainstream politicians in many countries
This year, Lent is a time for us to discern what God is saying in the midst of the uncertainty, fear and antagonism we have to ask ourselves how to react in a way that is prophetic and not merely in reaction to the feelings and actions of others.
To enable that discernment we practice and learn discipline. That word is connected with being a disciple, learning to not go with the flow, learning to listen to the voice of Christ. And following him asks us to do things very differently from how others may choose to act. In an era of consumption, we fast. In an era of protests and confrontation, we pray and listen. In an ear of 'what we have we hold', we give alms.
Thus our ashes are not a sign of drabness but of rebellion. A rebellion against profit being put before people. Against the comfort of the strong being more important that the welfare of the weak at any stage in their life. Against the playing down of community in the alleged interest of the individual's rights. Lenten practices are not a spoil-sport activity but an assertion of freedom.
By choosing not to have a gut reaction to the aggression or the pressures to be self-indulgent, we say I am not a slave of my instincts, I am not a pawn of huge commercial or political interests, I choose to find my value in the God and not just in Gucci. Therefore Lent is not just some irrelevant pious practice.
It is I say that I am more than my hungers, my thoughts, my feelings or my actions. It is where I say that I am not a slave of my instincts. It is where we put everything in context and, like Jesus, face the wilderness with confidence.