From a Homily on Ash Wednesday
Abraham Lincoln never took himself or his faith too seriously. He once told the story about how he slept during a sermon. The pastor, seeing Lincoln asleep, asked the congregation to stand if they desired to go to heaven. Everyone rose except Lincoln. The pastor then asked those who wanted to go to hell to stand. Lincoln awoke at the very moment the pastor yelled ‘stand up!’ When the pastor asked Lincoln what he had to say for himself, the future president responded, “Preacher, I don't know what you're voting on, but you and I seem to be the only two for it.”
President Lincoln was not as jocular on March 30, 1863, when he declared a national day of “"Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.” The reason for doing so, Lincoln felt, was because Americans had lost sight of God, the source of all their blessings. “We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us.”
Catholics have had a day of “Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer” for centuries. It is today, Ash Wednesday: the beginning of Lent. We fast, pray, and humble ourselves by wearing a smudge of black ash in our forehead for all to see. We do this to remind ourselves that God exists and we are merely dust, and unto dust we shall return. It is God, not us, who is the source of our blessings, and with him all things are possible.