An exceptional journey: forty special days

Reflection at the beginning of Lent

By Luis Ovando Hernández, SJ

Lent is back. It is a Catholic liturgical season that finds its origins in the forty-year experience of Israel in the desert as it purified its collective heart. It is also related to the forty-day experience of Jesus in the desert as he discerned how he would carry out the mission that God the Father entrusted to him. In other words, we can still have hope, no matter how much the present reality counsels despair, and no matter how much the people most responsible for the current situation trample on our dignity and seek to eradicate it completely.

We are all responsible for the uncertainties and pains we experience on a daily basis. Some more than others, of course. For our part, it is necessary to go back to the beginnings, that is, to a loving relationship with God, which will help us recover the human-spiritual stature with which God the Father sees us, the measure of which is the person of the Nazarene.

This return to the Source of Life obviously means retracing the steps of our journey, believing in the Love that understands and forgives everything, the Love that fortifies us to take up the road again as we follow the example of Jesus Christ, the man of sorrows and conqueror of death and despair. This path has already been trodden by the Lord, who, burning with love for his land, forgave his people all their sins, faults and iniquities.

So we have before us an exceptional liturgical journey, an opportunity for “cleaning” the house that is each one of us and for accompanying in solidarity the Friend who goes to his Passion in order to renew our hope with his death, to console us with his Resurrection, and to give us new Life and a mission.


Forty extraordinary days for purifying our hearts and for recovering our dignity and our hope for a better future.

To embark on this journey, we receive the ashes. The first liturgical gesture of Lent is the imposition of ashes, a “multi-purpose” symbol with several meanings. When the ashes are placed on our foreheads, we are usually told, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” or “Be converted, and believe in the Gospel.” These phrases are self-explanatory, but the ashes themselves can be interpreted in various ways.

First, the ashes make us aware of the shortness of our existence, and this awareness leads us to realise that we cannot waste our time on what is not worthwhile. Just as ashes were once used to clean kitchen utensils, leaving them shining like new, so also ashes symbolise the repentance of those who convert and return to their Origin, God.

In some agricultural settings, ashes are applied to certain foods and fruits - bananas and avocados, for example - to help them ripen. In the same way, ashes symbolise the acceleration of our maturing as persons, until we reach the model of the Man Jesus. Finally, “where there was fire, ashes remain.” Thus, paradoxical as it may seem, not only do ashes symbolise our finiteness, but they also remind us that we are made for Eternity, that we are not trapped in this history.

In brief, we have before us a privileged time for purifying the heart and regaining dignity and hope. We can do so by being more aware of our dependence on God and by remaining in solidarity and in constant communication with our Lord, to whom we offer everything. May the God who is on fire with zeal for us, the God who always forgives us, also enable us to become co-workers in his loving plan for all.

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Posted by Communications Office - Editor in Curia Generalizia
Communications Office
The Communications Office of the General Curia publishes news of international scope on the central government of the Society of Jesus and on the commitments of the Jesuits and their partners. It also handles media relations.

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