I didn’t know very much about Lent as a child, despite the fact that my mother—who should have told us about it—was a Roman Catholic.
When in my early twenties I heard God’s call, I naturally wanted to learn as much as possible about the faith. And so my religious education began.
While studying for some years at theological college, I was aware that many of my colleagues (like myself) made a point of depriving themselves of tobacco during Lent. Other things many of us deprived ourselves during the forty days were coffee and chocolate.
That is what Lent seemed to be all about: self-denial.
Now I look forward each year to Ash Wednesday with its reminder that I am perishable… that I am dust, and to dust I will return.
Personally, I am glad the Church faces reality and gives us permission especially on Ash Wednesday, to reflect on some of the pain in our lives, and to think about how Jesus suffered.
As we begin this holy season, we allow a priest to put ashes on our foreheads as a sign of humility, repentance, regret and hope. Our hope is that God will raise us out of the ashes into the newness of life.
The past 100 years of the history of the world is marked with ashes. In 1914 with the outbreak of World War I a German commandment issued an order to incinerate the precious library of the Brussels University with its unparalleled collection of medieval manuscripts. The books burned, and ashes rained down upon the city and the world stood aghast at what a civilised nation could do. Ashes…
World War II and more ashes. Not just books this time, but people. The ashes of millions of innocent people were burned in concentration camps. And then the burned-down cities like Dresden and Stalingrad, followed by the nuclear explosions at the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. More ashes. And now ashes in Syria.
That wonderful prophet and reconciler Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes: “Some two million children have died in dozens of wars during the past decade. This is more than three times the number of battlefield deaths of American soldiers in all the wars since 1776.”
On Ash Wednesday this year I will not be thinking about a paltry denial of tobacco or coffee. As ashes are placed on my head I shall hope to express solidarity with the victims of injustice. I shall ask for God’s forgiveness for the wrongs we humans have done.