Today’s observance of Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent. Instead of Christians receiving ashes traced upon their foreheads in the sign of the cross, the priest will sprinkle ashes on their heads while admonishing those gathered, Remember, that thou art dust and into dust shalt thou return. Since I’m moving ever closer to that dust, I wonder how the austerities of Lent originated. During my long life, significant changes occurred in 1963, with the publication of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Even lesser austerities are practiced today.

Research reveals that in 321 AD, the Council of Nicaea promulgated the practice of Lent for the universal Church. And St. Jerome (d. 420) and the church historian Socrates (d. 433) also assumed the apostolic institution of the forty days of fasting before the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

Further research into this question over ensuing centuries, however, reflects conflicts: the length of the fast, whether to fast on Saturdays and Sundays, amounts of food, when to eat, what to eat, where to fast—culminating in councils and official decrees filling libraries.

Such reveal the woeful grasp of the instinctual world of our humanness and of Jesus’s Kingdom living—found in the Eight Beatitudes, as well as in the Twelve Steps. Practicing any of them deflates egos and promotes humility and obedience of heart, antidotes for the Covid-19 scourge and for so much more. Such flowerings do occur, even during Lent, itself derived from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, meaning “Spring.” So no need to give up anything, instead, receive graced direction. It’s always there…