By Fr. Bernie Weir
Ash Wednesday is March 6. Our churches will be full. Catholics all over the world will be marked with ashes and hear the words, “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” Ash Wednesday is a day of fast and abstinence. Everyone knows that we can’t eat meat, can’t eat between meals, and that our meals must be smaller than normal. It is also the day that we start our “Lent giving up.”
Several years ago, there was a palm shortage because of all the storms. At least here at St. James Parish in Washington we went into a small panic when we thought we were not going to have palms for Palm Sunday. We didn’t get our whole order, but we had plenty for everyone.
One of the questions that I was asked many times that year was, “Where do our palms come from?” I have to admit, I had never thought about that before. So my answer was, “Religious Supply in Davenport. The UPS guy drops them off.” I had no idea where the palms actually come from. I still don’t. We have a standing order at Religious Supply and UPS drops them off. We don’t think about the palms. They just arrive.
The second question that I got asked a lot that year was, “Where do our ashes come from?” I do know that answer. We don’t get them from Religious Supply by way of UPS. Here at St. James, we burn last year’s palms for this year’s ashes. Our high school youth group gathers at the Beenblossom home to prepare the palms and burn them. We add a little olive oil to the ashes and on Ash Wednesday mark ourselves as sinners in need of forgiveness.
The ashes are dark, and messy. There is nothing clean and neat about the burning or the marking. The ashes are hard to clean up off the floor after each Mass, which is a good thing. There is nothing clean and neat about sin. It’s dark, messy, and hard to clean up.
During Lent we are very aware of our sinfulness. We fast, do extra works of charity and penance, and come before our God marked as sinners. We seek forgiveness for our sins by asking for God to forgive us. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether our ashes are nice, clean and neat or dark and messy. What is important to remember is that our sin is dark and messy, but the love of our God can and does surpass all of the messiness of our sin.
Christ will make all things new and pure. All we have to do is accept the reality of his love. The messiness of our sin cannot hold us. The love and forgiveness of Christ can and does set us free.
(Father Bernie Weir is pastor of St. James Parish in Washington.)