Why ashes and Lent are kind of a big deal

By on February 20, 2013

By Tyler Mercer–

Growing up in a very Roman Catholic family and going to a Catholic school until high school has provided me with a very religious background, one that I respect very much and am very grateful for. I remember celebrating each of the Church’s seasons with my family. The more joyous season is obviously Advent, where we prepare our hearts and minds for Jesus’ birth on Christmas.

The next season, the season we have recently entered in, is Lent. Every year, as the rest of the world is celebrating Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras because you get to be a little less than sober and it’s a ton of fun, Catholics are celebrating because it’s the last bit of celebrating we should be doing until after Easter. The Wednesday after Mardi Gras is called Ash Wednesday in the Church.

Ash Wednesday was only last week, but for those who have started their Lenten sacrifices, it may seem a little longer. On Ash Wednesday our foreheads are anointed with ashes while the ministers say, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

It is an odd traditional, admittedly. However, the things some people have said about it are pretty disappointing. On Ash Wednesday last week, I read on Twitter that someone had said that those ashes were nasty and that we shouldn’t have them on our heads. It is a very sad day when someone would disrespect an entire religion simply out of their own ignorance.

These ashes mean a lot more than simply a sign of who is Catholic on campus. They represent the dying of our sins. Lent is a time when we are supposed to be preparing our hearts, minds and spirits for the resurrection of our Lord. It is a time when we fast to honor how Jesus was fasting in the desert for forty days and nights.

These ashes should represent not only the dying of our sins, but a dedication to improving ourselves before Jesus dies for our sins on Good Friday and then is resurrected on Easter. To make fun of that traditional or to downplay its importance is very ignorant and should be discouraged.

I’m sure that the majority of you have either taken part in, or know someone who has, the practice of fasting from something in Lent. We often hear people asking, “What are you giving up for Lent?” A lot of people say soft drinks, eating out or maybe more appropriate for the college audience, some even say drinking.

If those are things that give you a lot of pleasure, then yes that should work. The Lenten practice of fasting isn’t completely about mirroring what Jesus did in the desert, it also about improving something for yourself. When we give up something for Lent, we are supposed to be making a hole in our heart. That hole that was normally filled with the pleasure we find in soft drinks or going to a party should be filled by the grace and love of God.

That is what Lent is all about after all. We fast so that we can fill that space with God. Although fasting isn’t that only thing we Catholics should be doing during Lent. Alms-giving is very important as well. We should be giving of ourselves to our community, church and world. Lent is a good time to begin sacrificing our own time to do something for others. You may see people volunteering with non-profits or collecting their change throughout Lent to donate to charity.

The main point is to develop a closer relationship with God in honor of the biggest sacrifice ever, where he had his son die for our sins.

In honor of Ash Wednesday a new service was created called Ashes To Go. At first I thought that whatever church or organization that started this must be very sacrilegious. It just isn’t right to let people get ashes wherever it’s easiest for them.

While I’m still not sure how I feel about the Ashes To Go service, I think it’s more of a sign of disrespect from the people receiving it. When you can’t fit time into your busy schedule for God, it sometimes makes me wonder why He should fit time into His schedule for you. You wouldn’t have the ability to get up for work if it weren’t for Him, yet you can’t put work on pause long enough to attend an Ash Wednesday service? That doesn’t seem right.

There is something about actually attending mass that you just can’t get from going through the motions of getting anointed with ashes. Being at church and being alert for the service is part of experiencing God’s love through Lent. When we attend church, we should be putting the rest of our life on hold for however long we are there.

Church is about devoting that time strictly to praising God and learning about his plan for us. That’s why people shouldn’t participate in services similar to Ashes To Go. You need to be able to devote a great deal of time for prayer and meditation. You just can’t do that if you aren’t in church. I’m not saying you have to be in church to pray, but being present for a service is much different than just getting an outline.

Lent is a time to seek forgiveness for our sins and the things separating us from God. It takes a large amount of effort to give up something we enjoy for Lent, to fast from eating meat on Fridays or to give up our own time to help someone in need. If you are strong in your faith and know that God has blessed all of us tremendously, it is a little easier to give up things. If you aren’t, Lent is the time to become strong in your faith.

If you aren’t religious, use this time to improve something about yourself. Giving up something you find very enjoyable will help improve your character and may even help you better understand your friends who are religious.

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