Ashes remind us…
A priest friend of mine once told me that more people go to church on Ash Wednesday than any other day except Christmas. Not just Catholics but people of all different faiths. They all come to get ashes on their foreheads. Why would they do this?
This visible symbol of our humanity reminds us that we are imperfect…that we make mistakes…that we need mercy and forgiveness. They also remind us that we must extend mercy and forgiveness to others for their imperfections also.
Let it go
It seems to me that these ashes are even more important than ever. In a political climate where there is so much anger, fear, and disagreement, isn’t it time to let go of our own anger and fear? Friends who voted for opposite parties still suffer from their differences. Can’t we forgive each other? Dr. Judith Orloff writes, “Enormous amounts of energy are wasted when we hold back our love, hold onto hate, and harbor acrimonious feelings. The only remedy is letting go, and being willing to forgive.”
“Even now, says the LORD,” in today’s reading from the prophet Joel, “return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, rich in kindness, relenting in punishment.” Rending our hearts means opening them to forgiveness, compassion, and reconciliation.
We are forgiven and must forgive
Pope Francis preached, “God never tires of offering us his forgiveness each time we ask for it. His is a pardon that is full and complete, one that assures us that, even if we fall back into the same sins, he is merciful and never ceases to love us.” So every year, we wear ashes on our foreheads to remind ourselves that we are forgiven and must forgive.
We are also reminded of this dual action of forgiveness when we say the Our Father. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” God’s mercy can move us to mercy. Our gratitude for God’s mercy can free us to be gracious and let go of the offences that weigh us down.
Having a single day or single instance of forgiveness is not enough. Martin Luther King once said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.” When our families, employers, employees, peers, community see our ashes, do they also see in us the habit of forgiveness or just for the day? Lent lasts 40 days…plenty of time to turn an act into a habit. Let’s try this Lent to be merciful each and every day because our God never ceases to give mercy to us.
“If we really want to love, we must learn how to forgive.” ~ Mother Theresa