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February 23, 2012

Day 2 of Lent: What?

by Rev. A. J. Iovine

For several years now, I have heard about the practice of some Christian pastors/priests/ministers standing at bus stops or going to community centers on Ash Wednesday to apply ashes to the foreheads of anyone who wanted them. It struck me as odd since ashes are, to be blunt, a meaningless symbolism of sinfulness.

Yes, you read that correctly: Ashes are meaningless.

Of course, some of my brethren will fight back against my rather harsh opinion of that annual smudge on foreheads across Christianity. As a symbol of the payment of sin — God promises that we will return to dust since we were created from dust — ashes provide an outward symbol of the decrepit nature of humanity. Instead of a dirty symbol, why not acknowledge the reality? Lent gives us that opportunity to reflect on the meaning of Jesus Christ and Him crucified for us. Just because some people smudge burnt palm on their heads, it doesn’t mean they take their sinfulness any greater than the rest of us who did not get ashes yesterday.

To me, the importance of Ash Wednesday and each subsequent day is the daily reflection on our sinfulness and the forgiveness won by Jesus at the cross for us.

But in that reflection, there is another response — a faithful one. I’m new to this thinking but I thoroughly enjoy the stark contrast to the spiritually vapid outward sign. Why not live the next forty-five days in love and service to the Lord? Respond to our sinfulness by focusing on the good our faith compels us to do. I believe a faithful response to Lent and its meaning is more spiritually uplifting and makes Easter as equally exciting and important than if we wallowed in sadness and longing.

And with ashes, they provide nothing spiritual. The best place to receive that spiritual uplift is in church. But don’t tell the Episcopal priests that.

In today’s Record, they report about a group of Episcopal priest who fanned out throughout Northern New Jersey, fully vested mind you, and swiped ashes on the foreheads of anyone who wanted them.

Or as a priest was quoted in the story:

“We wanted to go to the people rather than have the people go to church.”




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