A little smudge of dirt on the forehead has great attraction in our age! Almost magnetically people come to church on Ash Wednesday. Rivaling November’s Thanksgiving as a feast written in our DNA, this simple ritual calls us from offices, schools and homes.
Somehow that public, smudged sign of the cross on the forehead touches the soul and penetrates the heart, providing something that “connects” with the real lives of folks. Each year, I watch as people flock to the Cathedral for Ash Wednesday. They come so politely, reverently. They don’t shove because they can get something free — they just serenely wait for that sign.
Why the attraction? It may have something to do with wanting a simple life. With souls so hectic these days, we all want to stop and take stock. Ash Wednesday has that attraction. I wonder what happens after people leave with their sign … before or while they are washing it off that evening before bed.
Maybe they recall the words of sacred Scripture—that call from the Prophet Joel to return to the Lord with all their hearts. These words are repeated by Jesus taking up the same ancient themes — speaking to their hearts about interior conversion — prayer, fasting from too much food and generosity with others through alms.
My mom always reminded us that going for ashes should not be a badge of our holiness but a way to admit our weakness and our need for God’s grace in our lives. At the end of Ash Wednesday Mass, I remind myself and those present of this advice from my mom.
And with this simple ritual, Lent begins.
The reflection above, written by Archbishop Kurtz, first appeared in “Give Us This Day” for February 2016 and is reprinted with permission.
The three pillars of Lent
The third segment of March’s “Conversations with Archbishop Kurtz” includes an interview of me by Dr. Brian Reynolds. I hope you will view it as Lent begins; see www.archlou.org/conversations. Every Lent we return to the three-fold counsel given by Jesus Himself of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
I love the summary of these three at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops: “Lift Up, Give Up, Take Up!” Here is what the web site states succinctly:
“During Lent, take inspiration from the words of St. Paul (2 Cor 8:9), and contemplate his invitation to live a life of evangelical poverty. Embrace the Lord’s call to being the blessed poor by ‘giving up’ material things, including food, superfluous to your basic needs; ‘taking up’ charitable habits directed to helping and caring for others; and ‘lifting up’ those in need through giving alms, through praying for them, and by participating in devotional practices.
“Fortify your Lenten journey with the words of the church fathers and Pope Francis featured on this calendar, and contemplate the suggestions for prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.”
May this Lenten season be a rich and spiritually rewarding one for you that deepens each day as we approach the holiest week of the church year and enter into the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.