St. Anthony Messenger

Dear Reader: Ashes to Ashes

Young man receiving ashes

When I was in the fifth grade attending Ash Wednesday services at my parish, I remember an elderly priest doing his level best to accommodate a lengthy line of children. By the time he got to me, he was seated from fatigue (he must have been in his late 70s). And when it was over, I looked like a coal miner. My friends laughed. When I saw myself in the mirror, I laughed too. But from that point on, I avoided ashes. 

As I am within spitting distance of AARP qualification, I have to say I’m charmed by the ritual now, and I marvel at its popularity. Think about it: Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, and yet people flock en masse to Mass for this occasion. I suspect it’s the symbolism of the ritual. “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” we are told. But that’s a bit too intense for me. I prefer Jack London’s more palatable position: “I would rather be ashes than dust!” 

Click here for Maureen O’Brien’s reflection on Ash Wednesday. One of our best writers, she draws interesting parallels between her life and this yearly practice. We hope you like what she has to say. 

Lent is a season of solemn travel—toward God and with God. We at Franciscan Media are with you on the journey. 



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