Ashes to Ashes: Kicking Lent off with a whimper
We have really outdone ourselves this Ash Wednesday. I mean, it’s usually a day fraught with tension and discord rather than prayer and peace, but, even by our standards, today was one for the record books. First there was the juggling of children and schedules to find a Mass that would work for everyone. We decided on 7 a.m. at our former parish because it’s closest to all the schools. So last night I warned, no, I begged the children to please, please, please have everything packed in their backpacks and ready to go. No last minute searching for homework or forms to sign, no shock and awe over not having time to finish an assignment. Everything was to be signed, sealed, delivered.
As we were preparing to leave for Mass this morning, the teenager proceeds to express the aforementioned forbidden shock and awe over the fact that his science homework did not print to the basement printer last night. And so the yelling began. He tried printing again. Another fail. More yelling. Then the tween comes downstairs and says her stomach doesn’t feel that great. Sigh. Okay, stay home. But as we’re about to go out the door, she’s standing there, wearing not only her coat but the face of absolute misery. More yelling as I send her to bed and announce that I am THIS CLOSE to just skipping Ash Wednesday altogether.
Finally four out of five of us get to Mass, which was not exactly inspiring but at least it wasn’t heretical, which is often the case in this particular parish. So we thanked God for small favors. As I was heading to Communion, I leaned down to tell Chiara that since we were not on line with a deacon or priest she would not be receiving her usual blessing. I received Communion, assuming she was right on my heels. I turned to look behind me — thankfully — and the extraordinary minister was holding a host out to her and she’ was standing there not knowing what to do. Yes, my daughter almost received her First Communion by accident this morning. Told ya it was an Ash Wednesday for the ages. So we headed back to our pew where I proceeded to swallow my host and commence whispered yelling, knowing that we must have looked like those A&P Catholics who don’t know what to do at Mass. Maybe I needed another little dose of humility.
Finally, as we were walking out of church, Chiara dipped her hand into the holy water and proceeded to turn her ash cross into an ashy mudpie on her forehead. I told her to stop or she’d end up wiping the rest away. So what did she do? She wiped the rest away. Do I really need to tell you what happened next? We got in the car and I began to yell and continued yelling until we pulled into our garage. Fortunately for Chiara we live only a mile from the church.
And throughout all of this I kept hearing the words of today’s Gospel: “Go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.” Oh what I wouldn’t give for an inner room. And a closed door. Unfortunately at this rate I am much more likely to end up in a rubber room with a locked door.
All of this made me wonder about the depth of my faith. If it doesn’t inform my actions or transform me in some way, is it real or is it just empty words? At some point shouldn’t this lifelong faith of mine manifest itself in some obvious way? Every year I get my hopes up that this Ash Wednesday will be different, that it truly will be a time of new beginnings and inner work and outer growth, but, as is almost always the case, it is just another reminder of my human weakness and my many failings — as a disciple, as a parent, as a person. And maybe that’s exactly what I should be feeling on this first day of Lent. I am not God. I am dust, and to dust I shall return.