by M. J. Joachim
Did you get your ash in church yesterday? Millions of Catholics throughout the world arrived in droves, to be marked with the sign of ashes on Ash Wednesday this year. Various words relating to turning toward Christ, following the Gospel, from dust whence we came, etc., accompanied the imprinting on their foreheads by priests, deacons and lay ministers.
For the next 40 days, the rest of the world has a reprieve from Catholic misbehavior! We’ve started our Lenten season, and everyone promises to be ultra good.
We won’t eat too much. We won’t drink too much. We won’t gossip, complain or swear. And to top it all off, we’ll give up eating meat on Friday’s, and maybe even fast a little.
Growing up Catholic, I watched this ritual play out every year. Thank God my dad never gave up smoking! That would have been far too painful for the rest of us, I can assure you.
Later on in life, I was exposed more to the liberal side of things. It’s about feel good, not sacrifice – psycho-babble putting a positive spin on it.
In reality, Ash Wednesday is a checkpoint for Catholics. It’s a day to reflect and remember who we are and what we are about. It’s the beginning of a season of reflection about who we are in relation (and in our relationship) with Christ and our faith. Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, for those who might be wondering.
These outward signs are notions to help us build and foster that relationship, while improving our own lives. They’re not meant to be trivial bragging rights, glum sacrifices or painful exercises. They’re meant to help us become better people; if they don’t do that, they shouldn’t be practiced at all. If all they do is create pain for the people around us, because we truly aren’t ready to give up, whatever it is we give up, it makes perfect sense to skip the torture chamber and make everyone happy all around.
Ash Wednesday and Lent are opportunities in the Catholic Church. They’re invitations, much like when Jesus called his apostles to follow Him. “What good can come from a Nazorean?” (John 1:46) Take a gamble and find out!
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Photo credit: Ashes imposed on forehead of Christian on Ash Wednesday, Jennifer Balaska, Public Domain
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