Meditation for Ash Wednesday

With Ash Wednesday being the start of the season of Lent, I have 3 words for people going to Mass: get there early!  For some reason, it seems that everyone who is even nominally Catholic goes to church on Ash Wednesday, even though it is not a holy day of obligation
I hope that the reason for the rush to Ash Wednesday Mass is because of the call of these readings:
  • "Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart"
  • "Spare, O LORD, your people, and make not your heritage a reproach, with the nations ruling over them!"
  • "Wash away all my guilt; from my sin cleanse me."
  • "Rescue me from death, God, my saving God"
  • "Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation."

Unfortunately, I fear that, judging by when the most people show up (toward the end of the service), the message of the Gospel reading may be most appropriate: "take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them".  I’m afraid that too many people go to church on Ash Wednesday to get their ashes.  It’s something more of a cultural phenomenon for them – a remnant of some tradition remembered from their childhood.

With all the attention given to Mardi Gras (especially this year, with the economic rebuilding of New Orleans underway), Ash Wednesday is sometimes treated as a Yom Kippur for Christians – a Day of Atonement to make up for the sins committed the previous day.  What is lost is that God does not just want us for a day, or even for a season – He wants us for (eternal) life.  He is calling us back to him so people will not look at Catholics as hypocrites with dirt smudged on their heads.  He doesn’t want us to die in sin, but rather that we’ll have life and we’ll have it more abundantly (John 10:10).

I hope that Chesterton’s statement about Christmas will one day apply to Easter and the Season of Lent for each person who goes to an Ash Wednesday Mass:

"The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why." – "On Christmas," Generally Speaking

Hopefully, "now is the day of salvation" for those coming to Mass today.  Let us pray that it is also the day of salvation for all of us who are undergoing a continual conversion to Christ.

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