Ashes to Ashes

By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. – Genesis 3:19

imagesIt’s always sort of amused me that the Catholic Masses on Ash Wednesday have more participants than on most Sundays and all Holy Days. I’m not sure exactly what it is that draws Catholics to Mass on Ash Wednesday. I know I always go, though I’m under no obligation to do so. It simply feels like an appropriate beginning to Lent. But I also go on Sundays. So there.

My theory is that whether or not one is a practicing Catholic, we like the sign of the cross on our forehead in ashes to proclaim to the world, well, I don’t know, something. Probably not what we are supposed to be proclaiming to the world.

Bill and I differ on what we do after Mass. Do we wash off the ashes or leave them on? He is a washer-offer, and does so even before leaving the church. His theory (and it’s a good one) is that Christ told his followers not to be hypocrites.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. – Matthew 6:5-6

Nevertheless, having attended Catholic school for 13 years during which time the nuns told us we should wear our ashes proudly for as long as they stay on our foreheads, I am inclined to do so, hoping all the while that I’m not a hypocrite.

Since childhood, I have undertaken some sort of penance during Lent. This penance is generally in the form of “giving up” something, and offering the sacrifice to God, who “gave up” his only Son.  I haven’t always “given up” the same thing, but I’ll bet if I was able to look back, the thing I gave up more often than anything else is sweets.

That’s always been surprisingly difficult for me. I say surprising, since I don’t think of myself as a big sweet eater. But I must be, because I have always looked forward to Easter Sunday when I could finally have a great big piece of something sweet.

So, as I pondered what to do for Lent this year, I considered giving up sweets once again. But that seemed insufficient somehow, at least for where I am in my spiritual life.

After careful consideration, here is what I have decided to do for Lent.

Live a simpler life. Pray more.

I know what I mean by that, but if I tell you, then I’m being like the hypocrites.