Ash Wednesday is upon us once again. Easter ~ Sunday April 4th.
So, you may ask ~ what are ashes all about?
We Catholics like symbols. (So does Harry Potter.)
What can they tell us about life? And death? And reality?
When the priest smears ashes on the penitent’s forehead he says one of two poignant phrases:
REMEMBER THAT YOU ARE DUST AND UNTO DUST YOU SHALL RETURN,
or REPENT AND BELIEVE IN THE GOSPEL.
(However, if you are going to church to receive ashes this year, be aware of this change about how you will receive them. Yesterday, I noted because of the pandemic, the parades in New Orleans an Rio were cancelled, now you will have a different way of receiving ashes. You will not be touched in anyway on the forehead. The ashes will simply be sprinkled on your head as the priest or other minister say: “Remember that you are dust . . . “
So, it’s a sign of humility, a sign that we are part of the earth, that we are dust.
Are we to reflect and ask ~ Are we just dust?
Have we made an ash-heap of our life?
Are we sitting in an ash-heap?
Is there nothing but ruin, smoldering embers around us?
If so, do we despair?
Or can ~ do we dream of re-building?
Whether or not, the answers to these questions apply to us literally, it is important to humble ourselves before our God.
They could very well be true at any moment of our life.
I certainly can say ~ There but for the grace of God go I.
Now, I’m going to tell you a story from my own life to help explain what Lent is all about.
Some time ago, I was slicing some tomatoes and I put a tiny hole in the very end of my right index finger. It started to bleed a bit so I somehow managed to get a bandaid on it at that peculiar spot.
The next day I put some peroxide on it to see if it was infected and sure enough it was. So, I had to nurse my poor little finger for over a week till it got better! But then It didn’t and I had to do nurse it another few days.
Now, how does this relate to Lent?
Our souls can get hurt too.We hurt ourselves, as I did; we hurt others and we hurt God.
We can easily get an infection in our soul as well. We call that sin. The word sin comes from a Greek word in archery hamartia that means “to miss the mark”.What mark? Our best selves! The other thing about my poor little index finger is that it has a permanent scar—right at the end where I type. (I just checked the poor lil’ finger out a year later and, yes, the scar is still there.) Sin does that too. It leaves its mark on us somehow, someway, even the small ones; they chip away at us.
I’ll tell you something else about me, a little more personal. I have been prone to yell at people. When I was a kid, I grew up in a home where I got yelled at a lot. I’m of Austrian heritage and that doesn’t help either. We Germanic folk are very abrupt people. The yelling shows up when I get frustrated with clerks on the phone who give me the run-around, I need to realize that other person has feelings and should be treated as a human being. I have also been known to yell at people in the sacristy when I was under pressure. That is a sinful condition too.
It took me some growing and challenging to be able to change.
And that is what Lent is about. Growing and changing. Listening to Jesus in the Scriptures. Then putting into action what we’ve heard.
Another part of Lent is asking for forgiveness. Forgiveness from God and forgiveness from those we’ve hurt. The Sacrament of Reconciliation (confession) is a powerful place to receive the grace for healing and strength we need for that growth and change.
Lent, then, is a season of hope that ends in new Life, in risen Life.
It’s a time to TURN AROUND ~ to make a U-turn ~ when or if we realize our life has gone in the wrong direction.
That’s what the word con-version means. To simply do a U-turn.
Turn around and head in a different direction.
To get going again.
To CHANGE, so you don’t keep on doing the same old thing and expect different results.
It doesn’t do a Catholic much good who show up on Ash Wednesday, get a smudge of ashes without the intention of doing what they symbolize: CHANGE what needs changing. That’s it!
And so, dear friend, don’t just give up something for Lent. Get at the root of your life where you need to look at the real stuff.
I invite you to go deeper into the practice of your faith.
Make the sign of receiving ashes Mean Something!
Let it transform you from inside out.
The question is: Do we ~ you and I ~ have the COURAGE TO CHANGE?
So, let’s do Lent well ~ together.
During Lent, be ready to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem.
Find out who this Jesus is ~ for you.
And what wisdom he has to offer us that will help us to change and enrich our lives for the better.
Whether you are Catholic or not, perhaps you will find some wisdom, some meaning for your life in these pages. Join us as we walk the journey together as Jesus did ~ through suffering to death to new and risen life these six weeks of Lent 2021.
God of pardon and of love,
We come to you this holy Lenten season,
begging for your Mercy and Love once again.
Please allow us the grace to open our ears to hear your Word,
to see you in the faces of one another ~ in family and in stranger,
and give us the grace to see what we need to change,
the courage to act upon it,
and to follow you on the way to Jerusalem.
Now, before you go, here’s a song about Ashes. Click here. Be sure to enter full screen and turn up your speakers. And if you are going to church to receive ashes this year, be aware of this change about how you will receive them. Yesterday, I noted because of the pandemic, the parades in New Orleans an Rio were cancelled, now you will have a different way of receiving ashes. You will not be touched in anyway on the forehead. The ashes will simply be sprinkled on your head as the priest or other minister say: “Remember that you are dust . . . “. The pandemic has a way of influencing everything we do, it seems. Wear your mask; practice social distancing and get vaccinated and pray for those suffering from covid and those who care for them that Jesus will raise us all up!
And here are today’s Mass readings if you’d like to reflect on them. Click here.