Ash Wednesday is coming – ready or not

Ash Wednesday

Soon we’ll be celebrating Ash Wednesday, when Christmas was just 7 weeks ago.

The contrasts couldn’t be more startling.

Christmas being so engagingly delightful with a cute newborn baby boy, animals, angels, stars and visitors with gifts.

Now as we mark Ash Wednesday we are going to have imprinted on our forehead’s ash in the sign of the cross.

Simultaneously the minister will say either: – “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”.

And we will reply – Amen!!!!

Not morbid at all given that Lent is about life and death!

We’re agreeing that yes, the earth isn’t our permanent home and we will die.

Our bodies will be placed back into the earth to turn to dust and our souls spirited into God’s full sight forever. To replace this certainty with the ever more popular idioms of ‘passed’ or ‘pass over’ only serves to skip the depthness of this beautiful fact.

The Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter liturgies provide more extreme contrasts as we re-enter into the life, death and rising of Jesus.

The sanctuary being stripped; the altar bare and the tabernacle door opened and emptied; the Gospel retelling how Jesus was sold out by Judas and Peter distancing himself from all involvement.

Jesus being executed without a fair trial, the disciples buzzing off while some women stayed close.

Watching the Easter fire burn, entering the dark church holding flickering candles, listening to the Egyptians meeting their watery deaths, rejoicing during the 8-minute Exultate, and wanting to give the devil the thumbs down at the baptismal promises.

Death didn’t have the final say.

We now have God’s own life within us.

It’s all an unearned gift.

Jesus came that we may have more than a slice of life but “have it to the full”.  (John 10:10) Now that’s worth getting excited about.

Not surprisingly, Ash Wednesday has been described as the ‘Porch to Lent’ i.e. an entryway so we can intentionally say an unconditional Yes to Jesus’ invitation to follow Him, (Matthew 4:19) when we renew our Baptismal promises some 40 days later at the Vigil.

Lent with its appeal to personal conversion is the ability to pick up the mirror and honestly looking at ourselves, reconcile to God.

This fits in with the summer days giving way to autumn’s cooler temperatures being a dying sort of season anyway.

I’m forever grateful to my Catholic upbringing because I wonder if or how I might have found the fullness of faith if not.

Ash Wednesday always stood out.

As a youngster I used to line up my 5 sibling’s dolls and soft toys and finger write the cross, knowing instinctively if I used ash all hell would have broken loose!

How are you going to approach the long haul of this season?

Will I get back on track when my plans turn to custard or flag my original intentions as unachievable.

But I’m distracted already with this fractured world caused by sin.

It’s hard to escape the conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine and powerlessly watch on the tv news, ordinary people being forced from their homes and villages.

Do they need Ash Wednesday to remind them they are Ash?

Do those Christian’s seriously maltreated in North Korea especially, need Ash Wednesday to remind them they are ash?

We can all identify with St Paul when he struggled with himself.

“I cannot understand my own behaviour.”

He says.  “I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate”.  (Romans 7:15.) And, St Paul should know, since he had a criminal record hunting down to slaughter Christians before his life changing conversion.

Lent is an opportunity to treat ourselves with a fresh start.

To stop struggling with ourselves, hiding behind excuses, pinning blame on another or regretting those situations we could have been handled more maturely.

It’s time to own our ‘stuff’, to say we’re sorry and seek God’s forgiving friendship again which is a constantly open-ended gift.

Go in peace, your sins are forgiven is music to one’s ears.

  • Sue Seconi is a writer and a parishioner from the Catholic Parish of Whanganui – te Parihi katorika ki Whanganui.
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