Ash Wednesday and Lent 2017
February 28, 2017

President Roy F. Heynderickx, Ph.D. shared the following letter on Tuesday, February 28, 2017, reflecting on the significance of Ash Wednesday and Lent, with Saint Martin's faculty, staff, abbey members and students.

Dear campus community,

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Campus Ministry has sent out a schedule of events, including times for the distribution of ashes, planned for this day. Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As ashes are applied to a person's forehead, the following words are spoken: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." All are welcome to receive ashes on Wednesday.

In the Christian calendar, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Lenten season. For Christians, Lent is a way to remember the time Jesus spent 40 days and nights fasting alone in the desert being tempted by Satan before calling his disciples in Galilee.

When people think of Lent, most think of this as a time of fasting or abstaining: I am giving up "x" for Lent. But these acts are not meant to be tests of willpower, they are meant to prompt self-examination and reflection. Fasting, as Jesus fasted in the desert, is a practice shared across many world religions, including Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism, and is intended to promote a proper sense of priorities and develop self-discipline. For Lent, the goal is to leave a stronger and more vital person of faith than when we entered.

One way to grow in faith is to "live gratefully". In a TED Talk recorded in 2013, Br. David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk and interfaith scholar, defines living gratefully as "becoming aware that every moment is a given moment ... a gift." Br. David suggests we can live gratefully by building "stop signs" into our lives, habits of stopping, looking and opening our hearts. Lent is one of those critical "stop signs". Br. David writes, "And when you stop, then the next thing is to look. You look. You open your eyes. You open your ears. ... You open all your senses for this wonderful richness that is given to us. There is no end to it, and that is what life is all about, to enjoy, to enjoy what is given to us."​

Pope Francis echoes this in his Lenten message for this year. He writes that Lent is the season for "opening the doors of our heart to others" because "each person is a gift."

This Lent, I want to make sure I express my gratitude for being a part of the Saint Martin's community, to work among so many dedicated people -- faculty, staff and abbey members -- all deeply committed to serving our students. I know we as a community face several challenges, both within and beyond our campus. We face economic challenges, challenges around work-life balance, and challenges around inclusion and diversity. Every day that we come to Saint Martin's, to work and to learn, requires a renewed commitment to our mission and to our community.

Thank you to all of you who live and support our mission.

Roy F. Heynderickx, Ph.D.
Saint Martin's University