by Moira Cullings
Catholics everywhere are lining up to receive ashes on their foreheads.
If you didn’t know what Ash Wednesday was, you’d probably think we were crazy. But when we as Christians see other people rocking a cross smack dab in the middle of their foreheads, we know exactly what it’s about.
And if you ever attended a Catholic school, you’ll understand my urge to reminisce on how it shaped my Lenten experience.
To be honest, Lent during elementary school was more of a chance for my friends and me to show off our creative side than to go through a spiritual experience.
“What are you giving up for Lent?” we would eagerly ask each other.
If I’m recalling correctly, ‘homework,’ ‘studying’ and ‘school in general’ were a few of the most popular responses.
Something like ‘vegetables’ was always a hit, too.
Don’t let our immature sarcasm fool you. We really did try to make genuine sacrifices, mostly because our teachers inspired us to fully participate in the season. Not just by giving something up, but also by doing something proactive.
I’d like to point out that a head caked in ashes isn’t exactly fashion forward. Especially in today’s times when it’s so easy for people to judge one another’s beliefs.
But it’s actually the kids who teased me for wearing dust that made me want to stand up for my faith for the first time.
Now that I’m older and don’t have teachers or classmates to guide me through this Lenten season, Pope Francis’ messages are the next best thing. Here are a few things he has to say.
1. Go out of your way to make others feel loved, so you don’t remain indifferent to those around you.
“Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.” — 2015 Lenten message
2. Make sacrifices of self-denial and do so for the benefit of others.
“Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty.” — 2014 Lenten message
3. Don’t just give something up, but reach out to those in need to get the most out of this season.
“By touching the flesh of the crucified Jesus in the suffering, sinners can receive the gift of realizing that they, too, are poor and in need.” — 2016 Lenten message
4. Know that God’s mercy is generous, and yours should be, too.
“The mercy of God is a proclamation made to the world, a proclamation which each Christian is called to experience at firsthand. For this reason, during the season of Lent I will send out Missionaries of Mercy as a concrete sign to everyone of God’s closeness and forgiveness.” — 2016 Lenten message
5. Allow Lent to transform your heart.
“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.” — Ash Wednesday Mass 2014
For Ash Wednesday mass times, please visit your local parish’s website.