Father James E. Shea, C.Ss.R.
Dear Parishioners and Friends:
An American journalist was assigned to the Jerusalem bureau of his newspaper. He rented an apartment overlooking the Wailing Wall. Every day there would be a Jewish man facing the wall and praying vigorously.
Sine the Jewish man appeared every day at the Wall, the journalist figured there might be an interesting story about this man. So, the journalist went down to the Wall and introduced hiself to the Jewish man. The journalist said, “Sir, I see that every day you come to the Wall and pray. What are you praying for?”
The old man replied, “Well, early in the morning I pray for world peace. Then before noon I pray for the brotherhood of man. Early in the afternoon I take a break. I go home and enjoy a cup of tea. Later in the afternoon I return to the Wall to pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.”
The journalist, being quite impressed, asked, “How long have you been coming to the Wall and praying for these intentions?” The old Jewish man said, “Well, about twenty or twenty-five years.” The journalist was amazed. He asked, “How does it feel to come to this Wall for twenty years and pray for these intentions?” “How does it feel?” the old man replied. “It feels like I’m talking to a wall.”
How often we heard our parents say to us as we were heading off to bed, “Don’t forget to say your prayers!” As we begin the season of Lent we will hear about the three suggested practices for lent: prayer, almsgiving and sacrifice. We will be hearing about these practices many times. It is the beginning of Lent. It is a time to go that extra mile in service to the Lord. We must not forget to increase our prayer life and our good deeds, for the Lord is calling us to come closer to Him through prayer and have a compassionate heart for those who are hurting.
We begin Lent with ashes on Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular days in our church calendar. People seem to come out of the woodwork to receive ashes. Yes, ashes are important to people. But ashes are only a reminder to fill their days of Lent with prayer, almsgiving and sacrifice.
Ash Wednesday comes from the ancient Jewish tradition of penance and fasting. The practice includes the wearing of ashes on the head. The ashes symbolize the dust from which God made us. As the priest or deacon applies the ashes to a person’s forehead, he speaks the words: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” Or the priest or deacon will say, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Also, we are following the example of the Ninevites. When Jonah said that the Lord would destroy their city unless they changed their ways, they put on sackloth and ashes. Our foreheads are marked with ashes to humble our hearts. Ashes reminds us that life passes away on Earth. We remember this when we are told, “Remember, Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.”
Ashes also symbolize grief, in this case, grief that we have sinned and caused division from God.
The ashes are made from the blessed palms used in the Palm Sunday celebration of the previous year. The ashes are christened with Holy Water and are scented by exposure to incense. While the ashes symbolize penance and contrition, they are also a reminder that
God is gracious and merciful to those who call oh Him with repentant hearts. His Divine Mercy is of utmost importance during the season of Lent, and the Church calls on us to seek that mercy during the entire Lenten season with reflection, prayer and penance.
And the question is – who did the counting? There are 46 days, not 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday. What kind of math is that??!! Well, the church has always considered Sunday as ‘little Easter.’ The code of Canon Law states: “Sunday, on which by apostolic tradition the paschal mystery is celebrated, must be observed in the universal Church as the primordial holy day of obligation.” So, Sundays are not counted as part of our Lenten journey.
Abstinence binds all those over the age of 14. On a day of abstinence no meat is allowed. “No one should lightly be excused” from the laudatory practice of fast and abstinence during the Lenten season.
Ash Wednesday = fast and abstinence. Good Friday – fast and abstinence. All Fridays during Lent – abstinence is strongly encouraged. Throughout the other day during Lent everyone is encouraged to fast now and then – even though it is not obligatory. We are also encouraged to energize our spiritual lives with additional prayers and almsgiving.
St. John Vianney was the pastor of the church in the little village of Ars, France. He is known as the Cure of Ars. One day a wealthy woman, who was quite portly, asked him what she would need so that she could reduce her weight. With a twinkle in his eye the Cure of Ars said, “Madam, you need about three Lents.”
Fr. Jim Shea, C.Ss.R.