Today, the Catholic Church marks our heads with an ashen cross. Ashes connote humility and death. Ashes are what is left over after something is burned. They are commonly associated with the residue of destruction and death. Something has died today. We die to ourselves in the self-denial of Lent. The ashes of our desires are what remains after this death.
After a forest fire, the forest floor is covered with ashes. The ashes are the residue of death and destruction. However, the ashes also are the beginning of new life for the forest. The fire clears away the accumulated litter on the forest floor which had been smothering seedlings which tried to grow every year. Now that the fire has burned away this litter, the ashes serve as a sort of mulch which protects and actually nourishes the new seedlings. Thus, the ashes enable the cycle of new life to begin.
We are like that. The Lenten ashes of our repentance and dying to self smother our selfish pleasures, enabling and nourishing new life to blossom within us.
What new life does the Lord want to spring up as a result of your dying to self this Lent? Will it be a call to a new vocation, the conception of a new child, a new holiness, the courage to witness publicly for Jesus, or joining a small Christian community? Repent! Die to yourself (Lk 9:23). Let Jesus create His new, abundant life (Jn 10:10) in you.