To my son Tommy,
Today is Ash Wednesday which is the start of Lent. It is a forty day period (more if you count the Sundays included) of preparation for the Paschal Mystery. During this preparation we pray, fast, and abstain. We make Lenten resolutions to give up this or to do more of that. We begin with ashes on our forehead as an outward sign of penance and humility, and a reminder of our own mortality, and to remind us we are witnesses to Christ.
New Years Day was just a couple months ago. It was filled with a bunch of resolutions too. People swear they are going to the gym more or eating better or perhaps this will be the year they learn to play the harmonica. Lent is not "New Years Resolution Revisited". Each of those resolutions have their reward here on this earth.
Lent is more about sacrifice. You give up those things that have perhaps taken too much room in your heart and soul. In the void created by your sacrifice, you invite in God. Sure there are tangible earthly benefits that happily occur as well. You give up soda and sweets and eat more fish and throw in an occasional day of fast, you are sure to lose a couple pounds. That is a nice side effect, but not the point. You are offering up a sacrifice of things, things you love the most, and saying nothing comes before Him. You are emulating the forty days in the desert where Jesus went without and was tempted by the Devil. You are training to resist temptation as well as training to sacrifice, and you're asked to do it with a smile even.
This training in and of itself has a nice side effect. It will better prepare you to be a father, a husband, and just a better man. Personal sacrifice and resisting temptation are valuable tools in many aspects of your life. It reminds you that it isn't all about you. Too often in life people are tempted to do what feels good or eat what tastes good or follow the path that gives them the most reward here and now, with no regards to others. Trust me when I tell you, as a father and a husband, it isn't about me and I would be willing to sacrifice anything for you and your mom. It is an example of love laid before me by my father and my father's father. That brings us to the true meaning for this preparation. Jesus was willing to sacrifice everything for us because He loves us. He is our ultimate example. Our simple sacrifices during this Lenten period pale in comparison, but it is the least we can do to show Him we love Him back.
So when you grow up and someone points out your dirty forehead, (which no less than three have done for me today) do not get all high and mighty and sound your trumpets or beat your breast. Simply say, "It is about Him, not me." And even if you got a heavy thumbed big sweeping mark of ash across your forehead like I did today, try to say it with a smile on your lips and your heart,.
Sincerely with love from your dad,