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By Elena Macias

Although Valentine’s Day fell on Ash Wednesday this year, the Catholic youth at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) did not allow the hearts, flowers and chocolates of the Valentine’s Day Holiday to distract them from attending Mass on campus to receive their ashes and officially begin their Lenten journey.

The coincidence of both Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday falling on the same day and the Catholic youth’s thoughts about their own Lenten journeys provided a living example of what Pope Francis expressed in his 2024 Lenten Message - “A time to pause.”

“It is time to act, and in Lent, to act also means to pause,” Pope Francis said. “To pause in prayer, in order to receive the word of God.”

Using Lent as a time to pause is what CSUSB Catholic Newman Club President and senior Liberal Studies major Sarah A. Garcia said she hopes to experience during her Lenten journey.

“My hopes would be to get closer to God, especially with school and with life, it’s just definitely caught up to me,” Garcia said. “It’s been super busy recently, but I don’t want to stray away from God and from my faith and from the bible. I think I would just love to dive deeper into my bible and read it more and understand it more.”

Garcia was also a liturgical minister during the Ash Wednesday Mass, and she helped distribute the ashes and the Eucharist to her fellow schoolmates. The Mass was celebrated by Father Hau Vu, Director of the Diocesan Office of Vocations. In his homily, Father Vu, who commonly celebrates Mass, formations and events tailored to young Catholics in the Diocese, also reiterated Pope Francis’ message of using Lent as a time to return to God.

“In this time of Lent and Ash Wednesday God is calling us to come back,” Fr. Vu said. “Come back my daughter, come back my son. For the sin that we have fallen into, that is not who we are… Pray so that you may receive the fulfillment you are looking for. Fast so that you can fast from the distractions of the world.”

In addition to using Lent as a time to pause and return to God, the three ways to observe Lent, which were read in the Gospel, almsgiving, prayer and fasting, were also discussed by Fr. Vu in his homily. He reiterated that these three Lenten pillars are to be done without being boastful. This teaching affected Ashley Ibarra, senior Kinesiology major, who wants to practice being kinder to herself during Lent, and to observe the teaching on fasting.

“I enjoyed hearing the words from the Gospel when it talks about fasting,” Ibarra said. “When you fast, don’t let everyone know, but do it in secret because God sees it himself, you don’t have to announce it. I like that because I think that you shouldn’t brag about the good things that you are doing.”

One of the other topics in Fr. Vu’s homily was the symbolic meaning of the ashes that the students were about to receive - “for dust you are and to dust you shall return,” (Genesis 3:19).
“So, this very day, let us receive the ashes reminding us, yes, one day we shall die, but we shall live for all of eternity. Death is not the end, but only the beginning… when we wear the ashes, what we’re saying is, ‘I love you God’ and I am willing to die to myself and to live for you and you alone,” Fr. Vu said.

Jesse Ortiz, senior Computer Science major and current catechumen in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), felt most affected by this and shared that receiving salvation through reconciliation and baptism are part of the reasons why he decided he wanted to be fully initiated into the Catholic Church.

“I hope to focus more on Christ and to prepare myself before I get baptized,” Ortiz said. “I liked hearing the words, ‘repent and believe in the Gospel.’ ”

Having participated in the Rite of Election on Feb 10 and signing the Book of the Elect, Ortiz expressed his desire to receive the Sacraments of Initiation, including Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist during the Easter Vigil. By doing this, Ortiz affirmed his decision that he made four years ago to change his religious denomination and become a part of the Catholic Church.

“Four years ago, I was a Protestant,” Ortiz shared and said that at a certain point he wondered out of the many different denominations, which one was ‘true.’ “So, I read the bible and some parts of it felt Catholic,” Ortiz said. “The verses talk about Jesus giving the Apostles the ability to forgive sins and through Baptism, especially Baptism. When Jesus said that Baptism is necessary for salvation, that part affected me, and it started me on my journey.”

Young Catholics in the Diocese may be on very different paths during their Lenten journeys, but the Catholic students at CSUSB prove that Lent should be a time to pause, a time to repent, a time to practice the teachings in the Gospel, and that the Lenten journey is a journey to return to God.

Elena Macias is the Managing Editor of the Inland Catholic BYTE.