• A student at St. Mary of the Purification Catholic Montessori School in Houston, Texas receives ashes March 6, 2019. (CNS photo by James Ramos/Texas Catholic Herald)

The challenge of embracing ashes

Mike Latona/Catholic Courier    |    03.07.2019
Category: Our Two Cents


I still get a chuckle recalling the first time that my son, Matthew, received ashes on Ash Wednesday – or, shall I say, almost received them.

He was perhaps 3 years old. Just as his forehead was about to be marked, he abruptly retreated down the aisle in terror, none too keen about letting some stranger touch him with that blackish-grayish stuff.

This Ash Wednesday (March 6), as a 15-year-old, Matthew will willingly go forward for his ashes, as will I and the rest of my family. Still, I must admit there’s something daunting about the ritual and what it represents – not to the point that I’d turn and flee, but daunting nonetheless.

How readily do I accept my ashes? Are there parts of Lent that are hard for me to face, that I’m inclined to run from in a spiritual sense?

The answer, I must admit, is yes. Over these next 40 days I am being charged by my faith to practice fasting, abstinence and almsgiving — which runs quite contrary to my natural human tendencies of seeking pleasure and comfort. Satan will be inviting me to abandon the battle, hoping to deter me from becoming the person God wants, just as he tempted Jesus in the desert. I’ll also be putting myself through heightened self-examination, laying bare the imperfections of my thoughts and actions and challenging myself more deeply to change for the better.

Lent isn’t exactly what I’d call a festive season. Unlike Christmas, there is no Lenten gift-giving, no carol-singing, and so on.

Yet for me, it’s a time of necessity — and therefore I opt to embrace my ashes. If I really want to get to the nitty-gritty of my faith and grow closer to Christ, there’s no better time of year.

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Latona is a staff writer for the Catholic Courier.

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