Archbishop Vigneron: 40 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving a spiritual and communal battle, but Christ 'has already won the war'

DETROIT — Before dispensing ashes to worshipers at St. Aloysius Parish in downtown Detroit, Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron told those gathered that what they were about to do is both communal and personal.

“Each of us brings to this communal celebration of Ash Wednesday our communal recommitment to these 40 days of repentance,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “This is something very deep and personal to each of us who has heard the good news of God’s mercy made manifest to us in Jesus Christ.”

In what has become a yearly tradition, Archbishop Vigneron celebrated Mass at the downtown Detroit parish, acknowledging Catholics across the Archdiocese of Detroit are once again preparing for days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, since evil’s presence in the world is all too real.

“When we think about the collect I prayed in the name of all of us at the beginning (of Mass), it is filled with military language, talking about weapons and combat and battle,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “As St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says, we’re putting on the sword of God's word and the helm of salvation. This is one way to rightly consider what we as God’s people are engaging in as we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Passover during the Tridium of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday.”

In preparation for the ongoing battle against evil, Catholics across Metro Detroit attended Mass to begin Lent, hearing from the Gospel Jesus’ own words about what it means to give alms, pray and fast with a joyful heart.

Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron imposes ashes on the forehead of a Massgoer at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Detroit. 

Across the Archdiocese of Detroit, Catholics began their Lenten journey by starting their day with the imposition of ashes, being marked for God. 

Nicole Fricke of St. Mary Parish in Royal Oak was at the 7:30 a.m. Mass, where she shared her Lenten promise to continue to read the “True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort after starting her Marian consecration.

“Lent is essential, as Fr. Paul (Snyder, pastor of St. Mary Parish) was saying in his homily today,” Fricke told Detroit Catholic. “It is like a reset button, where you can totally give yourself to the Lord, a time to be really intentional about your faith.”

Fricke added it is the first time she has received ashes at the start of the day, so she looked forward to going to her job at a nonprofit, where she could explain the meaning of the ashes on her forehead to Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

“I do have to work after this where we do have people of other faiths, so this will be a good witness,” Fricke said. “I’ve never had those conversations before about why I am wearing these ashes, but today I have some community meetings where I’ll be displaying these ashes. It’s about being intentional and open if they ask questions, responding lovingly. And if they don’t respond well, you don’t have to say anything.”

Freshly marked with ashes, worshipers at St. Aloysius pray the Our Father during Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Archbishop Vigneron in his homily at St. Aloysius said the ashes were more than a marking that the faithful belong to Christ, but a sign that Christ is the victor over death — a victory believers can already celebrate, but must proclaim in their communities.

“This Sunday, we will hear how for 40 days, Jesus himself personally was fasting and in prayer, all part of his great work of uprooting evil in our world and fighting our adversary, Satan, who was a liar and a murderer from the beginning,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “And we, in these 40 days, are sacramentally, mystically united with Christ in this great effort. And because we are united with Christ, we know we have already won the war. Christ has been victorious over evil. That's the meaning of his resurrection. Death has been destroyed. 

“Now, there is work for us to do, of course,” Archbishop Vigneron continued. “It is for each of us in his or her own sphere to bring to bear the victory of grace, the victory of Jesus Christ in our homes and in our neighborhoods and in our hearts.” 

Throughout Lent, Catholics will being “giving up” items they have grown attached to or “taking on” special missions to further bring about the kingdom of God.

At Guardian Angels Catholic School in Clawson, students are taught the meaning of Lent and the small, personal sacrifices they can make.

Guardian Angels first-grader Judah McCormick said his teacher taught the class that the ashes on their foreheads come from the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday.

Guardian Angels second-grader Gianna McCormick shows off her ashes after Mass.

“Today is important because Jesus was in the desert for 40 days, and we put ashes on our foreheads because Jesus died on the cross,” Judah said.

Judah further added he is resolving to share his toys more during the Lenten season.

“We do this (Lenten promises) to show Jesus’ love,” he said. “It helps when I share my toys; it makes other people feel good. It is what Jesus would want us to do.”

Archbishop Vigneron said the key to Lenten sacrifice is to take one’s focus away from oneself and move it toward the needs of others.

“Lent is when we come with great intentionality and focus to ask the Lord’s help, His strength, to overcome our sinfulness, our selfishness, our self-centeredness, and once again to humbly submit ourselves to God’s path and God’s way,” Archbishop Vigneron said. “And in that, prayer points all of us to the spiritual weapons we need to win this battle. The Church today teaches about self-restraint, self-restriction; those are the weapons given to us to win this battle against the root of sin, self-love.”

That denial of self and putting the needs of others before one’s own is something Jim Paonessa, a parishioner at Our Lady Star of the Sea in Grosse Pointe Woods, said he tries to instill in his three kids’ lives.

“As a family, we make a point to avoid meat on Fridays, acknowledging Lent by not snacking, daily acknowledging Christ’s sacrifice,” Paonessa said. “As parents, my wife and I make sure we say our prayers together as a family, teaching kids the meaning of sacrifice, humility and generosity. Nothing really in particular, but constantly making sure our faith is present in our lives. It's about relying on God and each other to make sure we all realize this is a special time to grow closer to God.”