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Ashes to Ashes: Kicking Lent off with a whimper

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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.

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12 Comments Post a comment
  1. Paul Burnell #

    Oh Mary this is so reassuring – you echo my thoughts hen I lose it in certain situations. Pray for me as I pray for you.

    February 13, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      I’ll say some special prayers for you today, Paul!

      February 13, 2013
  2. Oh Mary, what a wonderful post. How often I find myself yelling at someone in our household, or at work. If not yelling, maybe just crabbing, griping…

    Well what a start to your day and your Lent. My prayers for you all, my beloved Poust friends. Thanks for how you share you wisdom with such generosity. It is beautiful and grace-filled – even when it may not feel like it.

    February 13, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Thanks for the prayers, Fran. As you can tell, I need them! :-)

      February 13, 2013
  3. Linda LeClair #

    Oh, I can so relate! I always find Ash Wednesday and Good Friday the most difficult days of the year (as they should be, I suppose). So mine started up with being awake at 3:45 am and not being able to fall back asleep!

    February 13, 2013
  4. chrissy #

    Bless you for your candidness! All of us moms are there right? So often I feel like Im out of whack cus my son did something unexpected. Nothing goes as we expect. And Im convinced the enemy knows to strike our mind during hectic moments to think things are so out of control they wont change. And if the Bible says the enemy knows Scripture then of course that jealous jerk is going to try to mess up a holy day or holy moment or retreat or whatever. Our children are not working for that enemy who loves to destroy family either. We know the battle is as Eph 6 says. This day to day mother stuff is always a great place to strenghten for Lent. Instead of give up I gotta find ways to give in to God by giving up whatever control I think I have on people or circimstances in my life. One time a priest said when we recognize a battle coming to go get ice cream and praise God. So true! Dont let stinking thinking cause traffic on my journey woth Jesus

    February 13, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Hi Chrissy,
      Thank you so much for your comment! I’d get an ice cream but it’s Ash Wednesday. :-)
      You’re right though. I was thinking it this morning, that this is how darkness wins, by making me give up or think it’s just not worth it. Here’s to hanging tough.
      Peace,
      Mary

      February 13, 2013
  5. Sasha #

    I love Ash Wednesday because it is so primal and gritty (literally!) We are marked on the outside the way we know ourselves to be on the inside. So this day of all days it makes sense that things go awry. Today is about being honest in our brokenness. If our day were perfect then where would be the room for grace?

    (so says she who sent her 9 yo son to school without a coat on a day that calls for wintry mix in the afternoon and who was late for midday Mass because she couldn’t find a parking spot. None of which rivals your story, but still…)

    Peace be with all of us.

    February 13, 2013
    • Mary DeTurris Poust #

      Dear Sasha,

      I love that image, that the ashes mark us on the outside the way we know ourselves to be on the inside. So true! Thanks for your comment. Peace and blessings to you as you being your Lenten journey.

      Mary

      February 13, 2013
  6. Elizabeth Scalia #

    You’re too hard on yourself, Mary. We all have days like that. But I hear you and the longing for an “inner room.” I have recently been thinking about St. Catherine of Siena and talk of an “interior cell” where she more or less kept herself centered on Christ. Will have to figure out how to build one of those….

    February 13, 2013
  7. The times I feel closest to God are in a quiet chapel, with candles burning and no one to keep track of but myself. But, I believe one of our greatest gifts to God is the children we raise in his name — and getting them to church and keeping it all together while we are there certainly makes our own experience less than quietly sacred. Bless you and your family on this Ash Wednesday!

    February 13, 2013
  8. This year, the message I’m getting from Lent is to reflect on our shortcomings and to begin to make changes on our way to the Kingdom of God. How can we know where we’re going unless we assess where we’ve been? Maybe it’s a good thing this day was such a challenge – it can only get better from here!

    February 13, 2013

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