Happy Ash Wednesday everyone! This year Lent is super late, depending on the calendar, some years it has been as early as before Valentine's day (rough for those who give up sweets). I'll be honest, until a few days ago, I thought I still had one more week before Lent began. I have been nervous for the arrival of Lent, just because it inevitably invites us to get out of our comfort zone to make sacrifices that will carve out more room for the Lord in our lives and steer away from the me-mentality. Now, Lent is here, and as Catholics, we begin this season by going to mass to break bread and receive ashes on our foreheads, a marking that associates us with Christ and the cross he carries, to be celebrated 40 days from now on Good Friday.
I found some excellent information on the origins/history of Ash Wednesday by Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin at Catholic Answers. You can read his short essay here: http://www.catholic.com/thisrock/2001/0104fea1sb.asp
Ashes in the Bible are typically associated with mourning or penance. A mark on the head is associated with ownership. Thus, this mark reminds us "to adopt an attitude of prayer, repentence, and humility" (Akin). The ash cross is a sacramental, an exterior sign of an interior devotion. So it joins the rank of holy medals, rosaries, holy water, and the various other physical, tangible things that we use to grow closer to God, embracing our existence as physical, material, but also spiritual beings.
I just went to Mass a few hours ago, and BOY it was packed!! And the Chapel is not small by any means. Afterwards, I was talking to my dear friend Meghan about how the crowd compares to a Holy Day of Obligation (Ash Wednesday is not one) and it didn't even come close. And...there are a good 4-5 other masses on campus either at the Major Seminary or Chapel that I wasn't even at. Our conclusion: maybe more Holy Days need to have sacramentals associated with them...perhaps there could be a complimentary blessed rosary given out on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception or a blessing with chrism on the Assumption. I invite your suggestions. Anyways, I was just so happy to see the Chapel as packed as it was.
I remember two years ago on Ash Wednesday, I was interning in the MN State Senate and I had my ashes on at work as I had been to mass that morning. Wearing ashes in a secular setting really sparks conversation, and I ended up talking to a few people about the faith that I might not have otherwise. One of my co-workers even told me that my ashes had reminded him that he needed to find a mass to go to that night. Even though Ash Wednesday is not a Holy Day of Obligation, I have found that PEOPLE WANT THEIR ASHES.... :-) Being sorrowful is something we can all relate to as humans, and we can enter into the season, knowing that Christ fully understands the suffering and persecution we undergo because he experienced it during his life. At Mass earlier, Fr. Erich Ruetton (UST Director of Campus Ministry) challenged us to "pick our team" as we anticipate Easter. He encouraged us not to merely jump on the bandwagon at the end, but to make the sacrifices willingly and loving for Christ as we get ready for the "quiz" at Easter. "Do you reject Satan, and all his works, and all his empty promises? Do you believe in God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth? Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, died and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father? Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,and life everlasting?" (Rite of Baptism) This, my friends, is our faith! It is important that we reflect upon these questions during these upcoming 40 days so that we might prepare our hearts to say No to Satan and Yes to Christ with firm resolve.
The number one question circulating at this time of year is "What are you giving up for Lent?". So I thought I would share my plan with you:
I am giving up Facebook, one of the biggest vacuums of my time and something that I surely can do without. I have the phone numbers/e-mails of anyone I'd need to talk to, and I think it will allow me to spend more time focusing on the Lord and in nurturing my friendships. It will be tough though, I check Facebook quite frequently. I will, however, still keep up this blog and check Facebook on Sundays.
I am also trying to eat more simply (spend less money at the grocery, no alcohol, less meat, no sweets, etc.). I really really enjoy food and cooking, but in an effort to simplify this Lent, I will make Sundays my day of culinary "splurge" and eat more simply during the rest of the week. Simple can still mean gourmet and I will try and post a few more recipes up here for your enjoyment. I know a lot of mean fish dishes from my 9 years as a pesco-vegetarian (sounds like a good topic for a blog post...shoot, I've got to keep a list of these!), and that might come in handy for those of you who have gone cold-turkey (haha) vegetarian for Lent or just for all of us on Fridays.
I also think that it's important to make some new spiritual goal. My spiritual goal this Lent is to spend more time with the Scriptures in the practice of Lectio Divina. I loooove reading good spiritual books, but sometimes at the expense of reading the Bible, so I'm going to go back to the basics and focus upon the word of God.
What are you giving up for Lent this year? Never participated in Lent before? I encourage you to give it a go...Catholic or Christian or non-Christian.
- Write a letter/e-mail each day to someone who is lonely/needs a friend
- Go to daily mass
- Give up sweets
- Give up half your wardrobe
- Don't wear make-up
- Fast between meals
- Pray 10 minutes per day (or more!)
- Volunteer regularly
- Pray at 40 Days for Life (in MN the prayer will occur at Regions Hospital) for an end to abortion
- Baby-sit for a family with children (for free)
- Give up coffee/tea/hot chocolate
- Give up driving (if possible)
- Give up shopping for anything other than necessities
Know that I am praying for all of you, my readers, if you need any particular prayer intentions prayed for, you can always leave me a comment and I will include your intentions in prayer.
Tonight, I am going to a meeting of Students for Human Life. The speaker will be giving a talk on a "Muslim perspective on Chastity". Should be very cool and maybe it'll be something I blog about soon. :-)
St. Veronica, pray for us!
Jesus, Merciful Savior who died for our sins, have mercy on us!