By Barb Arland-Fye
Assisting my pastor with distribution of ashes during the evening Mass on Ash Wednesday affected me profoundly.
As I marked the sign of the cross on the forehead of each person and repeated the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” I felt fortified in my faith journey. Along with my family, these women, men, children and Father Joe Wolf, pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, are my companions on the journey.
With every person who approached to receive ashes, the Holy Spirit reminded me that I am not alone; this community of faith accompanies me.
Until that night, I had been approaching Ash Wednesday and the Lenten season with a sense of dread. Taking up the cross of Christ is never so daunting to me than during Lent.
The expectations I have — to forgive, be forgiven, deny myself some creature comforts, give generously and grow in my prayer life — seem unrealistic when coupled with the demands of daily life.
In a song we sing each weekend during Lent at Mass, we ask God to “create me again.” But we also ask God to breathe his spirit into us, to make that new creation possible. During the Ash Wednesday Mass, I felt God breathing his spirit into me.
And each day since then, a sense of peace envelopes me when I think about the small sacrifices I am making as a way of appreciating all that I have been blessed with. That sense of peace is God’s encouragement to continue with the effort and to not fear failure.
That doesn’t prevent me from stumbling this Lent, as I did the other night when I became unreasonably impatient with my husband over a very small matter. Creating me again is definitely a work in progress that needs to continue well beyond Lent!
The Ash Wednesday Mass gave me a sense of a fresh start, and served as an invitation for self-examination and deeper reflection on faith. That probably would have happened whether or not I had the privilege of assisting with the distribution of ashes. But the ritual enhanced my entry into Lent this year.
Following Mass, our parish broke bread together in the parish hall at the Knights of Columbus fish fry that has become an Ash Wednesday and Good Friday tradition.
Just as the ashes smudged on our foreheads remind us of our connection as Christians, the meal reminded us of our human need for nourishment and fellowship.