Wednesday, February 22, 2012
It's that time of year! (Also, sometimes Catholics are funny. See Rick Roll above :)
I am fascinated each year with what people expect from or why they participate in Lent. More specifically, Ash Wednesday. Technically, it is NOT a "Holy Day of Obligation." It's not a high feast! All Saints Day, Solemnity of Mary, Ascension, Easter, Christmas...these are some of our high feast days. And yet...people LOVE them some ashes!
I think I've made the point the before that people just love them some FREE (Catholic)STUFF.
I heard on the radio this morning that an Episcopal Church (I think) was dispensing ashes like at a Metro stop or in their parking or lot or something. You didn't even have to go to the service. People just want the ashes.
And this is fascinating to me as a "signs and symbols" kind of girl. Why do people want to wear the ashes? What does it signify to them and to others? What do we get out of it? Are we supposed to get anything out of it?
I also love other people's fascination with the ashes and the little Catholic childhood stories that surrounds our traditions. For example, I was in our "ministry center" at school where students can come by during their study hall and talk with a campus minister (mostly, I've just become really good at Uno and card games, but it has its moments...) and the ashes on each other's foreheads was naturally a conversation.
Student: "Ah! I really want to touch my forehead!"
Me: "you are good! at least you are conscious they are there still. I touch my forehead then remember when I feel the remnants on my hands."
Another student: "You can barely even see mine!"
Me: "you wanted them darker?"
This was interesting to me. When I was in Junior High, people would run to the bathroom to try to wipe off their ashes so they weren't so dark. Not me, though, of course. Not because I'm holy, though. Oh, no. I didn't want them to appear dark either (omg, that was SO embarrassing to have the priest with the monstrous thumb who would just dig into those ashes and you just KNEW you were going to get them all over so much so that they dripped onto your nose!!) but I was too afraid to touch them. Someone somewhere in my catechesis had convinced me that it was super sinful to wash them or wipe them off. I wanted to wipe them off like the cool junior high kids, but I was apparently too conscientious of a child.
I shared this memory of mine with my students. When I made the point that I was too afraid to wipe off the ashes, one student sighed: "aww!" And this made me pause for some reason.
1.) I guess I had forgotten what a very conscientious child I had been. I never wanted to do ANYTHING wrong or disappointing.
2.) Am I still as conscientious today?
I was kind of impressed that my students wanted to have the darker ashes. Today when I was driving home I saw a girl running in my neighborhood. She had to be about the same age as my students, possibly from the neighboring Catholic school and her ashes were very dark. I was struck by them and that then reminded me of mine, which I had forgotten since my swoop bangs conveniently cover them (Junior High Julia would've LOVED the swoopy bangs! Full Ash Coverage with NO guilt! Too bad Junior High Julia's bangs were curled, feathered, and teased early 90s style...joke's still on me, I guess...)
Anyway, all this to say: what do we think about Ash Wednesday? Is it significant to us and for what reason? Is it because we GET something and get to show something off? And if so, why are we proud to show it off? What is our intention?
Lastly, everyone always wants to know: "what are you doing for Lent?" I have wanted to try and go vegetarian for a while, and so I have taken Lent as my opportunity to try and do so. Of course, diets and personal goals are not the reason we should try something out for Lent, but for the sacrifice. I do think giving up meat will be a sacrifice since the majority of my (ahem, frozen, "Lean Cuisine") meals right now consist of chicken and/or turkey. I also haven't done a food fast, personally, in a while, so I'm looking forward to the challenge. One of my best Lents was the Lent of '99 when I fasted from food in a somewhat extreme way- only one large meal a day (I drank alot of milkshakes and smoothies, though :) I did it truly for the spiritual sacrifice of it, which was impressive for a 17 year old, I think. I remember reaching for pretzels and snacks in the middle of the day, but really thinking of the Cross in those moments. I grew alot spiritually that Lent because of it, and the weightloss was only a side benefit, as it, of course, should be.
So when I was talking to my students about Lenten fasting, we read the Gospel for today Matt 6:1-6, 16-18. It is a temptation to try and use Lent as a diet or for personal notoriety but Matthew's Gospel is very clear: do not boast. Do not even "let your left hand know what your right is doing." My students actually understood these points: don't whine about your sacrifice. Don't boast about it. Your Heavenly Father hears you in secret.
And of course, Lent is more than just "giving up." There is prayer and "almsgiving" too. I plan on really trying to focus on the almsgiving this year by spending time with roommates and friends more throughout Lent. I have become kind of the introvert since teaching took over my life. I spend all day TALKING to people. So when I get home, I just DON'T. I think this will be a good offering for me.
And also, prayer. I do try to "journey" with a saint. The Blessed Mother and I have an on again off again relationship, and so I would like it to be back "on" during these 40 days, 40 nights ;)
Pray for me and I will pray for you all during this Lenten season! I pray we are drawn closer to God through whatever offering/sacrifice we choose.