Former columnist for the Los Angeles Post Examiner, the Baltimore Post Examiner, and Gatehouse News Service

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Ash Wednesday

Before I became a Catholic, I was always somewhat awed by the ashes on the foreheads of the faithful. My thoughts went like this, as a younger woman: 1) what do the ashes signify? 2) wow, these people are brave to go around wearing these all day, just letting it all hang out, and 3) I feel left out.

I was not baptized until I was an adult, at age 27. It was on this day of baptism that I entered the Catholic church, despite several lingering doubts. My doubts were basically that a church as rich monetarily as the Catholic church couldn't be very evangelistic, and I also had a problem with the Adoration of Mary. It seemed that the veneration of Mary practiced by Catholics put her on a par with Christ, which I disagreed with. But, as a wise priest told me, as I sat in a chair in his office (very pregnant with my second son, squirming a lot), if I waited for a church to come along that suited all of my needs (and whims, and ever-changing ideas), I would be waiting a long time. So, I took a breath, and dove in to the life of a Catholic. Thanks, Father Kirwan!

I enjoy the tempo of the Mass. I like knowing what will happen next; it gives me a chance to focus my thoughts on worship and prayer, not on the activity before me. No, we are not as flashy as other denominations, usually - we don't use theatrics very often, and our music is often solemn, and old. (Boring, my 13 year old might say.)But in an ever-changing world, it suits me, to have the order of the Mass to count on. And, I like knowing that Catholics all around the world are hearing the same scriptures as I am, in a pew in a church in my small town in Massachusetts. It makes me feel like a microscopic part of a much larger effort at truth and understanding each week.

I have made my peace with Mary. She was, and is, an exceptional and blessed woman. Who but a mother completely devoted to God's will could watch her son being crucified in front of her? This alone is amazing, and not of this earth. And I do believe she continues her work of grace and healing today.

As for the money -- yes, the Catholic church in Rome has it; from pictures of the Vatican it seems that everything there is dripping with gold. But here in the U.S. churches are closing, and the Catholic church is paying for the priest abuse scandal that rocked several countries around the world. In my mind, they are not paying heavily enough in a very important way - all abusers should be jailed, no matter what their garments look like -  not "reassigned". But a cost is there, and it is a dear, sad cost -  they caused many to lose faith, and lose hope. That is an awesome sin and shame, making people lose faith, and heart.

The church is a human institution, and will fail us now and again. All churches will. But today, on Ash Wednesday, I celebrate my beliefs, and the freedom I have in America to exercise them. I will try to keep my thoughts on those Christians around the world persecuted for their beliefs. And I will focus the next forty days on being the best I can be, as I prepare for Easter. And the best I can be will be to disappear, to lose a sense of myself, and focus on God. I will fall short, yes, I will stumble and let human emotions and anxieties get the best of me sometimes. Bit I will try to remember the ashes I receive tonight, as my outward symbol of an interior love. I will use one of God's greatest gifts - the gift of will - to keep my eyes looking heavenward even if my feet are on the ground.

Life is short. Lead it as you feel led to.



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