Ash Wednesday, and going to Mass, has been something that I remember doing as far back as I can remember. I am sure there were a few times I failed to go, but all in all, it was a tradition...and an obligation.
In fact, I think that most of my life I didn't even look too deeply into why we "gave something up", and had ashes put on our foreheads. We just did. I knew that the priest used ashes from burned palms from the previous year's Palm Sunday and reminded us that we were "dust and to dust we shall return". Of course, the older I got, the more I took from each service. However, there was one Ash Wednesday service that made more sense to me than any other I had been to. The homily was given by a substitute priest, and I have thought about it every Ash Wednesday since.
In essence, the priest spoke about a newly wedded couple and their honeymoon.
Stay with me.
He mentioned that most newlyweds were excited about their life together and that the honeymoon was a period of time that they spent together, strengthening their bond and drawing closer to each other, before they returned to the distractions that life inevitably provides.
Most newlyweds are so excited, in fact, that they drive off into the "sunset" with a decorated car, a "Just Married" sign and cans hanging off the car bumper. Everyone they pass on the road knows that this couple is in love, and that they were headed toward a time and place where they would celebrate their union and focus solely on each other for a while.
I know that when I witness those newlyweds, so in love, riding in the gaudily decorated car, I take note, and smile, and think of my own relationship. My own love.
Generally newlywed couples pack lightly. You don't see them loading up every single wedding gift, and bringing along extra "stuff" from their house. It's their honeymoon. They don't take with them a U Haul trailer loaded down with everything they owned.
Those distractions aren't necessary.
This time is about them. The gifts, distractions, and "stuff", would be waiting for them when they returned from their honeymoon. They didn't need them now.
So, how does this relate to Ash Wednesday? You might have already drawn the correlation.
The newlyweds? You and God
The honeymoon? Lent
The ashes on your forehead? The "Just Married" sign and cans hanging off your bumper....allowing those around you to pause and give thought to their relationship with God.
The "giving something up"? Well....as he mentioned, you pack light while on your honeymoon. It's a time to be devoted to each other
The priest's homily, and the real-life correlation he drew, has been something that I have thought about yearly since hearing it.
His message makes sense to me, and enables me to realize that I need to be excited about the "stuff" I decide to shed during this time. (Although, sometimes, when I have a caffeine headache because I gave up soda, it's hard to be excited. The struggle is real, right? Just kidding..... Kind of.)
Of course, as I reminded the kids, you don't have to necessarily give up something. You can always do something. Something that will remind you, daily, that Jesus gave up, and did, much, much, much more.
I need to add a disclaimer that I know that I haven't done justice to explain the sacredness of this time. My hope, though, is that in sharing the homily, I helped to make it less foreign, and more relatable. I know it did that for me.
This is a link to another article I saw circulating that helped to cast a different light on the Ash Wednesday tradition. It was informative and enlightening as well.
Happy Ash Wednesday everyone!