“On February 21st last, I returned to Bishop’s House after Morning Mass to find a wheelbarrow ablaze and the smoke strategically blowing in the direction of Bishop’s House! It was of course Kevin and Billy who were burning last year’s palm branches from the Cathedral to create this morning’s ashes, marking the beginning of the Season of Lent. I love the cyclical nature of our Church, how the ending of one year becomes the seed that gives birth to a new year.
In a consumer driven world, where everything has a price, has a value, ashes don’t carry a price tag, but they signify something of deep value. I am now in the early days of my Confirmation journey around the Diocese. Young people write to me a letter, some of them are brief and succinct, for others it’s more like an essay or project. In one of the letters last week a young candidate spoke to me about the ‘stuff’ that means something to them in life. ‘Stuff’ is a great word, I don’t think it translates well but we all know what it means.
‘Stuff’ suggests ownership – “that’s mine” you can nearly hear the screech! Often the Church speaks of the commodification of the sacraments – “it’s her First Holy Communion”, ‘It’s our funeral”, “it’s his Confirmation”. Of course, such commodification or ownership of sacraments flies in the face of our understanding that we as a church are on a shared journey. Loyalty can sadly be bought now in the club card or fuel card in our wallets – purchasing fuel or groceries earns points, some weeks offers bonus points! Consumerism risks displacing the notion of community. Ashes and wearing the ashes makes a statement that we are not alone, we are on a journey together.
The ashes we wear to begin the Season of Lent, earn us much more than points, the ashes are a definite link with time and eternity. Lent begins every year with that sense of contrition – the longing of God for us to return to Him with our whole heart. The prophet Joel would be difficult company at a party, but he says it as it should be said! There is enough in Psalm 50 to keep us going for all the weeks of Lent. It should be required reading for reflection after all of us go to Confession. St. Paul makes us members of the diplomatic corps – “ambassadors for Christ”, while Matthew always on Ash Wednesday offers us the tools for our trade to get us through Lent – almsgiving, prayer and fasting. The customary Trocaire Box with its focus this year on Miriam and her daughter Maria in Honduras and their fight for justice.
In Lent we have always given things up, made sacrifices, done without and that’s all commendable. Equally we might challenge ourselves to take something new on each day. In Pope Francis’ letter for Lent, he focuses on the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) reminding us how sin can blind us. If on each day of lent we could deal with one little fault in our personal life, wouldn’t we be completely renewed by the time we bring home blessed palm in forty days time! That’s my prayer and that’s my wish for all of you this Lent.
† Denis Nulty
Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin