WAVERLY — With a cross of palm ashes on their foreheads, Catholics nationwide welcomed in the beginning of the Lenten Season.
And that's just the opening sentence. Obviously, all we Protestants who also received ashes yesterday, and are entering Lent don't count. The funny thing is, there is an Orthodox Church on the east side of Sayre, or at least there used to be, because there was a substantial Ukranian population from the days of the railroad. Apparently they just don't count at all.
For many, the next 40 days and 40 nights will mean no meat on Fridays, giving up personal vices and donating to charity, but Father John Yaw Afoakwah of the Blessed Trinity Parish at St. James took time before Wednesday’s evening mass to convey the deeper meaning behind the season.
He explained that Ash Wednesday is the beginning of man’s repentance for his sins, and to draw him nearer to God.
See what I mean?
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent, a time in which Christians traditionally practice certain spiritual disciplines in order to prepare themselves for the coming of Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter. Ash Wednesday is not about repentance, it isn't a Christian Day of Atonement, and Lent isn't about "drawing nearer to God".
Ash Wednesday is the reminder that we are mortal. We begin a season of spiritual preparation by remembering the very unspiritual reality that we will die. I forget who said it, but the old quote about hanging on the morrow focusing a person's attention applies here.
Lent isn't about repentance, either. Lent is about getting ready for the tumultuous events from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, so we can focus on their meaning for us.
Lent is held in recognition of the 40 days and 40 nights Jesus spent in the desert where he fasted and faced temptation from Satan in preparation for his ministry. Through these trials Jesus’ spirit was strengthened, said Father Yaw.
It also draws from the ancient custom surrounding those who offended God. Father Yaw explained that these people would wear sacks, fast and pray to show their repentance.
Only if we forget the story of the temptation in the desert is celebrated during Epiphany. And only if we forget that, in the early, pre-Constantinian Church, the only day of the year proselytes were baptized was Easter, with Lent being the final time of their preparation.
Father Afoakwah manages a little love for our Jewish cousins, too. It's a thing of beauty.
“It’s to remind us we are indeed dust, and to dust we shall return,” said Father Yaw.
“The Jews used palms as a symbol of victory, to hail Jesus as king,” he continued. “Then a few days later, these same people crucified him. It reminds us that we are human. It shows how weak us human beings are, and so we need a beginning of repentance.”
See that neat trick? It was "the Jews" who used the palms, and "these same people" crucified Jesus.
Lord, help us all.
Through the 40 days of prayer and giving, man is showing his willingness for penitence and readiness to let go of sin so that he can be reconciled by God and live a holy life, said Father Yaw.
I'm so glad I don't attend St. James parish, because I would have no idea why I was doing what I was doing.