Lent is celebrated by Christians worldwide starting on Ash Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.
During Lent, believers remember and honor the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism, during which he was tempted by Satan.
Ash Wednesday is outwardly symbolized by receiving ashes on the forehead in the shape of a cross.
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Ash Wednesday is a reminder "that we say ‘yes’ to God by saying ‘no’ to things opposed to God," one North Carolina Catholic priest told Fox News Digital.
"Some people think of this, then, as something like, ‘Identify a Catholic day,’" said Fr. Matthew P. Schneider, an adjunct professor of theology at Belmont Abbey college in Belmont, North Carolina.
This, however, is an incorrect way of viewing the custom, Schneider said.
"The idea of the ashes is not to boast ‘I’m a Catholic,' but just the opposite: ‘I’m attached to lesser things, so I'm going to start a process of letting go over the next month and a half,'" he said.
Schneider likened the application of ashes to "those ‘before’ photos we sometimes see in weight loss commercials: It is the admission we have a problem and our intention is to correct it."
Ash Wednesday serves as "a reminder that movement away from attachments, toward spiritual freedom and to our holiness within is the goal of human life."
He continued, "We are all called to be saints."
He added that while "becoming a saint is God's work," humanity must "cooperate by accepting his grace."
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A tenet of the Catholic faith is that "grace transforms from within," said Schneider.
"God strengthens us to go forth and do good works. Grace is not some afterthought," he said.
"With that concept of grace turning us into saints, part of becoming a saint is saying ‘no’ to things that lead us away from God," said Schneider.
The liturgical season of Lent "is a time to get rid of one of those attachments and connect ourselves more to God," he said.
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Many Christians choose to give up something for Lent, such as chocolates, Netflix or some other distraction, Schneider also said.
"Ash Wednesday makes most sense in this broader context," he noted.
"It is the start of the time when we focus our spiritual growth on the aspect of taking away things that keep us from God — from being saints," he said.
Ash Wednesday serves as "a reminder that movement away from attachments, toward spiritual freedom and to our holiness within is the goal of human life," he also said.
At Catholic services on Ash Wednesday, those receiving ashes typically hear one of two phrases: "Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return" — a translation of Genesis 3:19 — or the simpler, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel," said Schneider.
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"The first reminds us both of how we as humans came up out of dust, as can be seen in Genesis 2 — and we need to prepare ourselves for death," he said.
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"The second is more straightforward in reminding us to reject things keeping us from holiness and turn totally to God."
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