Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Ash Wednesday as a Child of God
I'm starting my Lent out strong this year, as well as I can. This morning I was thrilled to discover that my parish had Confessions at the usual times, so I rushed over to the parish for the Sacrament.
I attended Mass this afternoon at the parish where I work, and as I was rushing from my office into the Church, Father stopped me and asked, "Are you going to Mass?" Upon receiving an affirmative answer, he asked me to assist in distributing ashes. I was a bit surprised, but agreed (really preferring not to, but he's my boss, whaddaya gonna do?) He also asked me to serve as a "Eucharistic Minister" (even he's given up using the proper term), and THAT I was able to turn down, explaining I'm not trained, but he did find someone else.
Father told me where to stand and what to do, and when it came time, handed me a card with what I was supposed to say (I still managed to butcher it the first couple times...).
I've never performed this particular role at Mass, but it was an interesting experience. First of all, I realized it's a LOT harder than it seems to make a well-defined cross on someone's forehead!
And you know...foreheads come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I LOVED the guys that were nearly bald...it was so easy! They tended to get better crosses, because I had a heckuva lot more to work with! And some people had smaller foreheads covered by bangs that were hard to sweep aside. And sometimes I got ashes in their hair.
One thing struck me, though...the humility with which people were approaching. I really can't put that into words, but it was there, in how they stood, in how they bowed their heads. I wish I had that kind of humility. It's not stated, it's not contrived it's just...there.
This evening I had a youth event, and some of our youth were needing to attend Mass, so Father asked me again to assist (even though I had not intended to attend Mass this evening.) We had a catechist who was able to do so, so I hoped maybe I was off the hook...nope. Father said he still needed me if I could help. OK.
Apparently, though, there was some miscommunication, and so when we were called up to approach the altar, of course I got another big cross imposed on the one still on my forehead, and was handed the little dish (sorry, I have no idea if there's a liturgical word for that!) and card with the verse, but my supervisor was skipped, although she received the ashes. Father quietly explained to her that another person was taking her place. Before we all left the altar area, she turned to me and said that in my assigned section, her godchild was there. I asked her if she just wanted to take my place? She did, so I gladly relinquished the ashes and returned to my pew.
So it happened that I attended Mass twice today, which was not part of my original plan.
I have a theory...perhaps I'm such a huge sinner that I needed a double-reminder to repent and remain faithful to the Gospel! It's not lost on me that I was one of the few people standing in front of EVERYONE today being told to repent... *hmmm....*
But something else happened, too. At the second Mass, I was seated behind a mother and her three young children. They were quite fidgity (although quiet), and in profile, I could see how closely they resembled their mother. She was absolutely STAMPED into their features.
I considered how each of us also has our Creator stamped into us, although perhaps not in a way so recognizeable as a parent and child. When God looks at us, He sees His work, He sees His features...but do we? Do we ever stop to consider how much we resemble God, for He created us out of Love and fashioned us into His own image?
Yet we CAN recognize this in others. We CAN look at others and see God's features. We see Him when we recognize the virtues of another. We see Him when a person who lives a holy life exudes joy from every pore. We see Him when someone approaches us and doesn't care that we're nervous and have no idea what we're doing...because they recognized the presence of God first and that's all that matters to them.
I couldn't help but ponder the family in front of me this evening, realizing that THIS was the real reason I found myself at Mass for the second time; it's a lesson in conversion.
During Lent, the practices are designed to help us focus on what's truly important; holiness. The holier we become, the more we resemble God, the more we conform to Him, the more we recognize Him in those we serve.
God created us all in His image, an image that we disfigure through our own sin. We are being called to conversion, to put aside all those things that make us unrecognizeable. In the ongoing, purifying process of conversion, we begin to resemble God more and more, for this is the end to which we are called; this is why we were created. And because we fell so far, so hard, He sent His only Son to redeem us, and help us once again to become recognizeable children of God.
We can only hope, that by the end of Lent this year, we might resemble God just as closely as the children in front of me resembled their mother.
Dear Lord, please let it be so.