Ashes to Begin the Journey

Ash Wednesday has become one of my favorite days of the year. It isn’t because it is the day following the indulgence of Mardi Gras, or because it is a time to start the spring break “diet”, but because it has always been a day of clarity. Not just spiritual clarity such as “Ok, what is really blocking my spiritual progress and how can I cut that out of my daily routine?”, which is a wonderful question to ask oneself. Moreover, God has shown Himself immensely, clearly and ironically over the Ash Wednesdays past.

The first time I initiated my own attendance at an Ash Wednesday mass, I was probably around 21. My parents had just divorced, my sisters were all out of the house, and so there was really no one to push me into going to get ashes, but I nonetheless went alone to mass. For the first time ever, I realized the profound statement the sign of the cross in black ash on my forehead made to others looking upon it. It was the first time I was cognizant of its presence and my statement of Christianity in a world where most 21 year-olds were down the street at the bar with their friends.  After mass I remember someone close to me making a comment like, “Would you just go ahead and ‘whoops’ and wipe it off already?”  The comment shocked me, and I began to question my certainty in this walk of faith. After all, I didn’t really understand anything about the Catholic faith in which I had been raised. Later my then boyfriend (now husband) and I went to Kinkos to print a term paper for one of his classes. It must have been 11:30 pm by the time he edited and corrected and ejected the “floppy” so we could head over and do our usual “print run”. Standing in line, I was worried about the comments and stares I would receive from my black ashes. I was also surprised at the crowd at the copy center on that Wednesday, that late in the evening. Mostly looking at shoes around me with my head low, I felt another stare upon me. I glanced up to see the sweetest smile of a Dominican nun in full habit. She seemed to know just what I was feeling and her unmistakable faith showed in her kind smile. I remember thinking of the oddity of this moment. “Wow. Ok! A nun at Kinkos on Ash Wednesday, in front of me in the line and at 11:30 at night. You really answered that one!”  It was one of those moments that I realized the fullness of God in my life even the most arbitrary and monotonous moments. Psalm 139:8 (NLT) “If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there”, as we are reminded in Thomas D. Williams LC, ThD’s book “Can God Be Trusted? Finding Faith in Troubled Times”.  Not only is He there, but He has an amazing sense of what we need.

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