Ash Wednesday is February 17

I didn’t grow up in a church tradition that observed Advent or Lent–for sure we celebrated Christmas and Easter! But, we didn’t slow down for that period of time to let the meaning of the season resonate in our spiritual lives.

With the pandemic consuming most of our attention, it is understandable that many of us would be caught off guard by the season on Lent. I’m not sure what New Orleans is going to do about Mardi Gras this year, but chances are it isn’t going to be as big as it usually tends to be.

As a seminary student in New Orleans, I came to realize how big of an influence the Catholic church is in the area and especially the significance of the day after Mardi Gras. I still recall the revelers who had partied all day Tuesday lining up at St. Louis Cathedral to have ashes placed on their foreheads. I’m not sure how sincere these folks were in terms of their repentance, but it was important for them to be there for the priest to carry out his duties.

I’m grateful that our church recognizes the value of Ash Wednesday. It is part of the liturgical calendar and an important part of the rhythm of the Christian year. On this evening, our people come together for prayer, reflection, and to appreciate our own mortality and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lenten season, most notably linked with Genesis 3.19 “. . . for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

I think it’s a good time for all of us to slow down and recognize our limitations and mortality. There have been hundreds of thousands of deaths connected to COVID-19, a sad reality that confronts our nation on a daily basis. Disappointment and despair have been too close to too many of us for too long. Rather than try to run away from these emotions, Ash Wednesday offers an opportunity to recognize the failures we’ve endured this past year. There is a spiritual component to this day, one that each one of us should embrace and appreciate.

I’m hopeful that Ash Wednesday will offer us a chance to confess our sins, ask forgiveness for them, and be open to ways to deepen in our relationship with Christ. The ashes placed on the forehead will offer a tangible reminder of how little time we actually have on this earth, and also how much we need a Savior.

Repentance, contrition, and forgiveness are important elements of Christian living. May God help us to slow down enough to appreciate what we’ve been given and the blessings each one of us has received. Pandemic or no pandemic, it’s time to be reflective on the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ–DC

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