Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a private “turning back” to God for many of us during Lent. We try to establish good prayer habits, fast, abstain from something pleasurable, and give alms. We also repent and prepare ourselves for Christ’s resurrection on Easter. All of this is excellent, but we must be careful to not turn completely inward as we return to God. Elements of Lent certainly require introspection, but Christ also calls us to community with one another.
For example, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are public days of fasting and repentance. The ashes on the forehead display Lent’s message for others around us to see. Indeed, the ashes invite other people to ask us questions about our faith. Scripture shows that ashes represent intercession for others as well, since Queen Esther “covered her head with dung and ashes” before praying for the salvation of the Jewish people (Esther C:13). We should clearly consider others in our Lenten practices. God instructs us to invite other people into the faith, making Lent a season for both personal reflection and public evangelization.
The Importance of Invitation
Inviting others to follow God is a key aspect of discipleship. Christ commissions us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is a constant mission that persists in every liturgical season. God wants all people to return to Him during Lent, and He wants to use us as tools for this purpose. Of course, this doesn’t mean God desires self-righteous displays. Christ wants “secret” prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to improve our relationships with him. The joy and peace from that relationship will shine as another reason for others to follow God.
Extending invitations also adds to the community that Christ is present in. The Lord says that “where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). This means that finding Christ during the Lenten season requires more than humble, solitary practices. We should seek out opportunities to invite people to gather in Christ’s name. He will be in the midst of our Christian community, and we will learn more about him there. God’s call to “secret” Lenten acts isn’t mitigated by His presence in community. Rather, He wants us to form a holistic relationship with Him by engaging in both private and public faith.
How to Invite Others
Evangelization often brings to mind someone standing on a street corner and initiating discussions with strangers. This resembles what Paul did and is a great way to invite new people to the Church. However, this image of invitation is intimidating for many of us. That doesn’t mean that evangelization is out of reach or that it shouldn’t be done. Rather, look at your classmates, friend groups, and family members – people you already know – and find out who needs an invitation. Someone in those categories may have an inner desire to return to God this Lent. That person may be waiting for someone to accompany them along the way.
An invitation doesn’t have to be complex. It may be as simple as asking a friend to pray with you or offering to drive a relative to Mass. Certainly, you will get a “no” from some individuals, but others will respond positively. Whether a “yes” or “no,” the answer does not diminish the value of inviting someone to seek Christ.
This Lent, don’t forget to turn outward as you turn back to God. Let your private and communal practices bring you closer to the Lord. Your invitation to someone else may act as God’s invitation to you, urging you to deepen your relationship with Him in ways secret and open.