"It’s Ash Wednesday. Let us spread the #ashtag"
Today, the Catholic Church celebrates Ash Wednesday. This day marks the beginning of the Lenten season, or the 40-day period of fasting to prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection (Paschal Mystery). It is the season where we are reminded to repent from our sins, to fast and abstain, and to do charity works for the poor and needy.
It is an open secret here on Tumblr and in my blog that I am a former seminarian (or more appropriately, a seminarian on regency or break). I studied in the Seminary for eight years - from high school to college, and I have been writing reflections about Lent and being of service to the poor and the needy since I was twelve (I entered the seminary at a young age, so there goes the explanation).
But there is something that I have to confess to you. Something that whenever I remember those events, I have a mix feelings of being ashamed and laughing at it. During my first years in the high school seminary, I look at Ash Wednesday as a punishment. You see, even the required age for fasting and abstinence is 14, there are no exemptions in the Seminary (for obvious reasons, of course). I treat Ash Wednesday then as a ‘hunger strike day’ for we are only served one full meal during the day without merienda. And if you personally know my eating capacity, you will know why I despise a meal-less day.
As I grow up and as I learn more in the Seminary, my perspective has changed. And I should, because Seminary is a place of formation - spiritually, academically, socially, and formation as a mature, young man with the direction to the Priesthood. And even after I left the institution last March 2009 after graduating in Philosophy, even now that I am living in the real world away from the comforts of her confines, I continuously live (and share) most, if not all, the things that I have learned inside. There are no clear indications yet if I would return and pursue my Theological studies but the important thing is, I should and I must strive not to forget those good things.
Last night, I planned to attend the Ash Wednesday Mass at our Parish (outside the UPLB Campus). But when my mother told me that there will be a mass in their office (which is inside the campus), I decided to go there since it would be more convenient for me.
The Mass celebrant is Father Thor (Yes, Thor. He may not look like Chris Hemsworth but he is one of the nicest, and funniest priests that I know), the Parish Priest of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus Parish (the church inside UPLB). And I did not regret attending his mass. His homily moved me.
He started his homily sharing a stuff that he found on the internet. He said that a particular Christian denomination put up in their website that a mixture of ash and water burns the skin. As most of us know, the ashes being placed on our foreheads is a mixture of ashes (from the palms used on the previous year’s Palm Sunday) and (Holy) water. He consulted the Chemistry Professors of the University and they told him that yes, it is possible to burn one’s skin by a mixture of ash and water (he told us the name of the chemical compound but I forgot it) but the ashes used on Ash Wednesday have a very minimal effect to cause burning. So are they bluffing? Or scaring the faithful? We don’t know.
Why put ashes on our forehead? It is a reminder for us that we came from dust/earth and we would return to it after our death. Faher Thor told us that the mixture of ashes and water is very symbolic since ashes represents a lifeless man and water, the breath of God that created us (if you read the book of Genesis, this will be quite familiar to you). When God breathed to the earth, there was life.
So what is the challenge for us? Father told us that when the Priest (or the Minister) put ashes on our foreheads, this is a invitation for us to ‘return to the earth’. It is an invitation for us to be stoop down from our level, be ‘dirty’, and to be humble. After all, humility came from the Latin word humus which means earth or soil.
But how could we do that in these modern times where everything is fast and everyone is busy? That is where fasting and abstinence would enter. Fasting and abstinence is not just eating less and abstaining from meat. It is also doing less the things that we find addictive - television, alcohol, cigarettes, internet, and everything considered as ‘excess’ and not an essential. And when we have a free time after abstaining (and fasting) from these, then it would be the time to go back to the earth and be dirty.
And after all of these, during the celebration of the Easter Vigil (or the end of the 40-day preparation) and the blessing of fire and water, it is there when we would burn ourselves and walk to God, our savior. So basically, those who posted that a mixture of ashes and water will burn us, is in a way, correct.
Seminarians are known to Priests as omniscient creatures (it is a inside joke actually). I am guilty of this when I was in college since there are Priests and speakers who give us something that we already know and I (together with most of my brothers) would just fake our attention, pretending to be listening. I know, it is a sign of being proud and not being humble.
But I have learned my lesson today. Though I cannot say that I am totally doing it, I chose to listen and digest what Father has given us. I have learned that yes, we know things and sometimes, it is our expertise, but we should always be reminded. And we should see things from other people’s perspective.
The Season of Lent is about preparing ourselves. It is the period to give up something and be of service to the needy. Actually, as I have mentioned above, some of the things that we have saved during this season should go to helping the poor and the needy. Some would say that this is hypocrisy on our part, but should it be? I think doing something good at least during a particular period of a year is better than having done nothing at all. And as long as you know what you believe in, as long as you are steadfast on your faith, no hecklers, trolls, haters, and non-believers can shake you.
This is a period of giving up our excess. What would you give up? for me, I think it wold be extra rice. Aside from helping me lose wight, it will help those who are in need by giving them what I should have eaten for my excess consumption. (Lent, as they say, is the best way to lose weight and be of shape.)
In these modern times, is the celebration of Ash Wednesday still relevant? Yes. We need it more during these times when we seem to just think of ourselves and our personal gains.
Today is the beginning of the Lenten Season. Let us spread the #AshTag. Vaya con Dios!
Photo Above: A nun uses ash to mark a cross on the forehead of a believer outside the Baclaran church in Paranaque on the occasion of Ash Wednesday. The occasion marks the beginning of the season of Lent in the largely Roman Catholic country. (via ABS-CBNnews.com)
- The Word Exposed: Ashes - Manila Archbishop Chito Tagle’s catechism and reflection about Ash Wednesday. This is very informative.