Day of Dust: Ash Wednesday

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.

 It's the beginning of a 40-day "retreat" in the desert with Jesus...a period of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving to help us prepare for the joyous Resurrection of Easter Sunday. Though it was instituted and is widely celebrated by the Catholic Church, many of our Christian brothers and sisters also observe this time of penance.

"To many of us Lent can symbolize a depressing time of restraint and gloom just as the earth around us is preparing to burst forth with new life and beauty. However, Lent - with its encouragement to practice prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - is actually a blessing in disguise. Just as young men in the medieval times underwent periods of fasting, training, and vigils to become a knight, we too prepare for the Holiest of Holy Days – Easter Sunday. By  fasting, practicing penance, and rooting our lives in prayer, we imitate our Lord when he went into the desert: “And he fasted forty days and forty nights and afterward he was hungry...Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and ministered to him.” (Matt. 4:2, 11)"

 Today, my family and I will attend Mass and be marked with ashes in the Sign of the Cross. The ashes remind us of several things: that life is fleeting and we will soon die ("Dust to dust"); God made man from dirt or dust, and when we die we will be buried in the earth. Ashes symbolize repentance and mourning. There are over 40 examples in the Bible, one being Daniel 9:3: "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes."

 Job also illustrated the symbolism of ashes with an expression of penitence when he said to God: "I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. The other eye wandereth of its own accord. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes" (Job 42:3-6).

Ash Wednesday is deeply rooted in Biblical tradition. One of my favorite things about it is that is serves as an outward sign of the penance we take on during's a turning away from the distracting, murmuring lure of the internet, magazines, secular radio, etc. and a turning towards God. During Mass, when we receive the ashes, the priest marks our forehead, saying either, "Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return" (Genesis 3:19) or "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel" (Mark 1:15).

It's a humbling moment to realize the center of the universe actually doesn't revolve around you...and that our lives should be expressions of God's glory. He wants to know us; He wants to be foremost in our hearts, but that requires work and effort on our part. Lent helps us to be Christ-like and to journey with Him into the dessert. 

"Through the traditional practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer, which are an expression of our commitment to conversion, Lent teaches us how to live the love of Christ in an ever more radical way."
                                                      -Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

 40 days to deepen my prayer life...quiet the noise and voices of the world...

40 days to "Be still and know that I am God..."

40 days to offer up sacrifices in honor of His great Sacrifice...

40 days to hit the spiritual gym and strengthen my spirit through going without something, fasting, and abstaining on Fridays.

 Today is a day of fast and abstinence from meat, so dinner is going to be my main meal today. However, since I already eat very little meat (another post for another time), I'm going to be abstaining from something else.

Some Lenten links with great resources:

Life Teen has some excellent responses for you when asked, "Um, did you know you have dirt on your head?"

Jennifer at Shower of Roses has some great crafts, spiritual book suggestions, and Lenten activities.

Charlotte, also known as 'Waltzing Matilda' put together a lovely post of Lenten activities and recipes her family has done over the years.

Catholic Cuisine is my go-to site for liturgical recipes - check out this post chock-full of recipes and meals for Lent.

 May your Lent be a blessed one.

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