For the past few years, I have celebrated the 8:00 a.m. mass on Wednesdays in St. Thomas More Church which is here on the Queens campus of SJU.
It is one of my ordinary responsibilities. Usually, I am joined by 25-30 regular members of the University community.
Wednesday of this week is, of course, Ash Wednesday and the number of worshippers at the mass could be considerably larger.
This increase in attendance comes as no surprise. Ash Wednesday typically attracts people who recognize their need for repentance and who want to symbolize it with the cross mark of ashes on their forehead.
The 12:15 p.m. mass should have many more people; the Church could be filled.
During the day, numerous other settings provide the chance to receive the ashes in various parts of the campus. All these opportunities seem to guarantee that many people will be signed.
Wherever I turn, I expect to see people branded with this mark of penance and the call for renewal. All these confreres, colleagues, students, staff and faculty will “hold my feet to the fire” in terms of an awareness of my need to change my life.
A regular insight on this day is that some of these very people who brandish this sign for me are the very ones who challenge me the most.
My weaknesses do not come to the forefront as often with strangers or visitors, but with those whom I see every day.
The ashes on some faces summon me to mindfulness and conversion. It seems funny.
Words which would never arrive on a person’s lips become eloquently expressed by the ashes on their forehead. They can define and describe for me the extent and direction of my Lenten renewal.
“Giving something up” for Lent does not seem to carry the same force, unless I mean “giving up” some ways of thinking and acting and speaking around select individuals.
“Doing something” for Lent would involve making time and finding creative ways to relate to some others.
Soon the ashes will be washed away, but the recognition of whom I need to include in my Lenten resolve remains clear.
I do not expect to get the whole list of those people managed, but making some progress with one or two would justify Easter joy.