Ash Wednesday Thoughts: Ash Wednesday 2020 – I feel like a broken record when it comes to Ash Wednesday each year because I always have a struggle with the scriptures at mass on Ash Wednesday, especially the Gospel and what we do as a Church. Jesus' words all point to a quiet, non-public, personal and hidden commitment to fasting, alms giving and prayer. Yet, right after the Gospel we parade up and get a large cross of ashes that we can wear throughout the day for everyone to see. It doesn't seem right but that is what we do. When I was a kid, we got a little smug of ashes that faded quickly but today if you don’t get a large darkened cross of ashes people feel cheated.
In dealing with my struggle I usually harken back to an Ash Wednesday several years ago, when a Passionist who was celebrating the community mass articulated my struggle but then said perhaps it is important for us as a faith community to do this as we begin Lent. Ashes are a sign of unity, a sign of belonging and often for us that is important. I had never considered it that way. The ashes we Christians receive today connect us, they bring us together for a common purpose. Now we will each live out that common purpose differently, some more involved than others but we are together, we are connected.
However, to be honest I still struggle with the fact that churches are full to overflowing today because people want the ashes and they will take them anyway they can get them, often wishing to avoid the mass or the service, just give them the ashes so that they can be on their way. But, every Sunday when we have the opportunity to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, most people who receive ashes today are nowhere to be found and there is plenty of room in the church. I do not think I will ever understand how ashes became more important than Eucharist! Perhaps it is wearing the badge, the outward sign of ashes for all to see that makes us feel closer to God. I don't know!
On to more positive thoughts..."Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation. [So] a clean heart create for me O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me," words from St. Paul and Psalm 51 that help us to begin this journey of Lent.
St. Paul was one for always putting things in the moment not caught in the past or looking too far ahead, St. Paul in the here and now. Now was always the time, today this moment is what we should be concerned about. Somehow, some way God will be present to us today, God's Spirit will be alive for us today and we dare not miss it! The journey begins today and every day. The end of the journey is today and every day. The time is now!
I have always found the Psalms to be a wonderful book of prayer and if I could make a suggestion for your journey of Lent go to the Psalms and use them as part of your prayer. In fact I would suggest using Psalms 51 and 139. Alternate them during Lent spending some time with each. In Psalm 51 we seek forgiveness, joy, hope and God's love. In Psalm 139 we are reminded of God great love for us and the intimacy a relationship with God can bring.
During Lent, we are challenged to live each day in the present moment, in the hope that now is the time and go to prayer in our inner room knowing that we are not perfect, that we struggle but that God is right there with us!
Blessing on this Ash Wednesday to all.
Fr. Paul R. Fagan, C.P. "Preacher on the Run"
Just a few thoughts to help you on your journey through life...let me know from time to time what you think...