Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Feb. 25, 2009: Ash Wednesday

(Note: Fr. Paul is now assigned as the temporary administrator of Mater Dolorosa Parish in Independence, LA)

What is Ash Wednesday about? For non-Catholics who attend our services today, they know they'll receive ashes on their forehead. One parishioner joked that I should use a Sharpie marker to mark the forehead instead of my finger to keep my hands clean.

Of course there is a deeper reason why we use ashes instead of a black marker. We burn the palm branches that we used on Palm Sunday last year to make these ashes. On Palm Sunday, each of us had a palm frond which symbolized triumph and victory. We laid it in honor of Jesus as he entered Jerusalem. But, before the victory and triumph of the Resurrection, Jesus had to undergo suffering and dying. Hence we wear the ashes of these palms as a sign that we too will follow Jesus in his footsteps.
Many who have attended early mass this morning will head to work wearing their ash. It's a powerful visual witness to their co-workers of the words that priest or deacon spoke as ashes were given: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," and "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent. We become fellow companions with Jesus who heads to the desert for 40 days of fasting and prayer. There in the desert he is tempted by Satan. Even in the midst of physical hunger and thirst, Jesus nourishes himself with His Father's words in the scripture. And Jesus rebukes Satan's temptation with Heavenly Father's words. This morning at Mater Dolorosa School mass, I showed the kids this large, 2.5 LB block of chocolate that I found in my pantry. (By the way, if I ate this block of chocolate in one sitting, I would have consumed 6,200 calories which is equivalent to 12 BicMacs). You could just imagine kids' mouths watering. I told them that our mouths water automatically because of our memory and habit.

The point of Lent, I told the kids, is to have the same savory response to things of God. How do you do that? By fasting from our favorite things of this world and to feast on things of God--prayer, scripture, almsgiving. Losing weight may be one of our goals this Lent. It will certainly be one of the result of fasting from chocolate and sweets. Yet more important is to use this 40 days to learn to savor again how sweet God's words are. You can do this by going to weekday mass. Another way is to pick one of the gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) and pace yourself to read the entire gospel during the 40 days. See after the 40 days, how much spiritual weight you have gained and not how much physical weight you have lost.