As many of you know, few (if any) days of the calendar get larger Mass attendance than [Ash Wednesday]... even though it isn't obligatory.
And unusually early though it might be, it's almost too easy to simply go through the motions of another Ash Wednesday, another Lent, thinking in the process that, having done it for years before, we've "got it down."
If anything, a key message of this season remains a heightened awareness of how much ahead there is to do, how great our potential is to do better, to be better, to do more... and not just 'til Easter, and not just in the same way we did last Lent.
The story of this day is one of the more counter-cultural ones out there. The crux of Ash Wednesday is one that fascinates, and rightfully so: in a world -- and, indeed, in a church -- too often obsessed with appearances, with shirking blame and maintaining an image of perfection (sometimes at any cost), all that gets turned inside out: I'm far from perfect. I don't have all the answers. I can't go it alone. What I do matters beyond myself. I can be a better person than who I am right now.
Think of yourself as a construction site. You're a bit dusted up today, or you likely will be in a couple hours. No building rises or stands on its own, and the dust of putting one up didn't just magically appear -- like life, building is invariably a messy process if you're doing it right.
Along these lines, a work-site without dust is no accomplishment; no meaningful work would be getting done there, whether it's the foundations not being adequately driven in, the ground not being sufficiently cleared, maybe both.
A work-site isn't something to behold at mid-project... but the further along it gets, the more specific its work becomes, and the more the dust clears. And then, seemingly all of a sudden, what'd been a mess at the outset is transformed into something beautiful, useful, solid and lasting.
These days can easily become nothing more than a longing for whatever we've given up. But they're meant to be more than that -- and the more dust we kick up in the process, the better the finished product will be.
Bottom line: for yourself and those around you, let God build a better you this Lent.