Q: Every year as Lent approaches I think about what I should be doing during this holy season, maybe something new. Do you have any suggestions?
A: How about serving as an ambassador for Christ?
The Eucharist of Ash Wednesday reminds us of our call to serve as ambassadors as we hear St. Paul telling us: “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Paul was an ambassador for Christ to the early communities of believers that he founded and nurtured. But we are ambassadors for Christ in our own time and place, especially during Lent.
We are ambassadors for Christ, you and I. Our official credentials are our baptismal certificates, for our baptism made us lifelong ambassadors for Christ.
But probably few of us have personal experience of ambassadors. Thus we may feel ill-equipped for our service as ambassadors. They seem to be older, wiser representatives of their people. Maybe that is because ambassadors are to represent what is best in their people; ambassadors should embody their people’s beliefs, values and way of life. When we see or hear an ambassador, we expect to see and hear someone who represents the best of his or her country.
That’s why it’s a bit surprising to find that on Ash Wednesday, we ambassadors for Christ receive a big, black cross of ashes on our foreheads. By this we admit that we are sinners in need of reform who are making a step in that direction.
Yes, this is how we ambassadors for Christ put our best repentant face forward at the beginning of Lent. It might seem that we are going directly contrary to Jesus’ exhortations in the Gospel on Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18). But Jesus was speaking against self-righteously showing off our virtue, a show which might easily look like hypocrisy. Wearing a public mark of sinfulness once a year is not hypocrisy, but honesty — honesty that befits us ambassadors for Christ.
Living our faith
Lent is a time to relearn the truth that we don’t “practice” religion, we live it. And so, when people see and hear us, they should get a good idea of what Jesus Christ, the Christ who lives in us, looks like and sounds like.
This is especially true during Lent. This holy season is our yearly opportunity to relearn the beliefs, values and way of life that come from Christ — the beliefs, values and way of life that makes us Christians and keeps us Christians all year long.
Lent is our yearly refresher course in what it means to represent Christ — not to a foreign government, but to our fellow believers. Our baptism has commissioned us to make Christ seen and heard and felt in our world. And so, as we begin Lent, it’s good to review some important things that we ambassadors need to know and do.
First of all, an ambassador needs to know the language of the people. For us Christians, this means the language of the Bible. This library of sacred books is the mother tongue of the Christian people. The Scriptures provide the words and patterns of our public and private prayer. Lent is a time to rediscover the riches of God’s word. Those riches become ours as we prayerfully read and reflect on that word.
An ambassador needs to know the customs of the people, their traditional ways of doing things. For us Christian ambassadors, this means the three Lenten practices we hear about in the Gospel on Ash Wednesday.
Lent is a time to rediscover the riches of giving alms — that is, sharing our resources of possessions, or skills or time with those in need. We establish habits of giving what we can because the Gospel calls us to be concerned about the needs of others, just as Jesus was.
Lent is a time to rediscover the riches of prayer, all kinds of prayer, maybe a kind of prayer that is new to you. These are the ways to deepen our relationship with God as we open ourselves to God more fully.
Lent is a time to rediscover the riches of fasting — not in order to lose weight, but to gain greater awareness of our spiritual hunger that only God can fill. We fast to remind ourselves of our dependence upon our creator and our interdependence with God’s creation.
An ambassador needs to know the people whom she or he is sent to. Lent invites us Christian ambassadors to rediscover the riches we share as the church, people who are sinners all, yet who together seek the mercy of God these Lenten days.
“We are ambassadors for Christ.” Lent is our God-given opportunity to know more deeply the Christ we are to represent as his ambassadors. The cross of ashes that we will receive on our foreheads marks us as his ambassadors during the acceptable time of Lent. May the power of God’s love make us good ambassadors for Christ on the way to holy Easter.
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.