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Papa Francis The First | His Holiness Papa Francisco

Ashes...

If you receive blessed ashes to mark the start of Lent you will hear one of two phrases used by the minister who smears ashes on your forehead.

“Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

“Repent and believe the Gospel.”

Ashes are an ancient symbol of repentance. The church uses ashes as a powerful reminder—turn from evil and embrace the good—because life comes to an end and we all face divine judgment. Ultimately, ashes testify to our belief that there is more to life than material things or accomplishments. Ashes are also a spiritual reminder to keep searching for that deeper meaning involved in being good human beings.

I remember as a grade school student how impressive the ashes ritual and the words were, though I did not have the life experience to resonate fully with the meaning of Lent as a time of penance. As I recall, most of us kids did not wash our faces, even though the Gospel teaching on fasting (Mt 6:16-18) urges us to wash our faces and not appear to be fasting.  As kids we wanted to appear to be fasting, and we wanted to appear to be good Catholics, setting ourselves apart from other kids.

Today ashes point to something much more profound. With the increasing popularity of cremation we witness more funerals with cremains instead of coffins. I find myself thinking of Ash Wednesday whenever I take part in a funeral with cremains. I wonder if children today make any connection between the ashes of Ash Wednesday and the result of cremation. Just being part of a funeral with the ashes of a friend or relative present certainly reminds me of my own mortality.

 “Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

 The church encourages prayer, fasting and charitable work as the way to respond to the Lenten summons issued by the blessed ashes we receive. Forty days is a long haul project. We can’t make Lent just another item on our checklists. Nor can the essence of Lent be reduced to any formula. Ashes provide a wakeup call to all who pay attention. They are a powerful symbol, inviting us to spiritual reflection.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

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"And now let us begin this journey, the Bishop and people, this journey of the Church of Rome, which presides in charity over all the Churches, a journey of brotherhood in love, of mutual trust. Let us always pray for one another. Let us pray for the whole world that there might be a great sense of brotherhood.

I will now give my blessing to you and to the whole world, to all men and women of good will."

-Papa Francis quote

He does not know you, yet he prays for you.
He will most likely never meet you, yet he loves you.

This is your chance to show your love, for as the Bible teaches, "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven."