As my friends can attest, I love Mardi Gras. For the past five years, I have thrown a party to celebrate the last day before the start of Lent with drinking, smoking, feasting, and dancing...a gorging of the senses. I will not be hosting Fat Tuesday this year due to various circumstances, so in lieu of the partying I'm approaching this time with a more somber (and sober) state of mind than in the past; that is, with a deep breath and a tightening of the belt, invoking the prayers of the Desert Fathers, feeling like a knight on the eve of battle, an athlete the night before the Olympics.
Ash Wednesday marks the first day of spiritual boot camp. It is not about giving up chocolate or 'getting ashes' or self-improvement; it is about beginning the hard work that must necessarily accompany our pursuit of holiness. When we are marked with the sign of the cross, we are invited to pursue our true vocation: to 'turn away from sin, and believe in the Gospel.' It is our initiation into battle...with sin, the Devil, our passions, and our very selves. Let the games begin.