The Great Ashathon
By Juan Rodriguez - DHT
"Ashathon" huh? Despite the true meaning of Ash Wednesday, there always seems to be the great run for ashes. You hear the pews rumble, the kneelers creak, and then off to the front of the sanctuary they run, knocking down young and old alike. It's as if people were running for that 10 million dollar lotto ticket. Well boys and girls, it's dirt on the forehead, not the lotto jackpot! Little do we know that this is irreverent behavior, and can be misleading to every Catholic Christian, both new and old. So why run up to the Sanctuary of the Lord for a dirty forehead? What does it mean to be marked with the sign of the cross?
I use this word that I made up, "Ashathon", to describe this race during Ash Wednesday. I am surprised how many misinformed Catholics place more importance to the ashes, but not to Jesus who is present in the Eucharist. As Fr. Groeschel told us in a conference, "It's like they go to father saying, 'Don't need Jesus today father, just the ashes.'" Catholics who come to receive ashes on this day misunderstand the importance of the Eucharist, in which Jesus is truly present, body and blood, soul and Divinity. They come to get the ashes in a hurry, and then leave the church not knowing that Jesus is coming to be with them. The ashes are used for a sign to begin the forty days of Lent. This is when the Church, together, prepares and participates with Jesus in His passion.
Why the rush for Ashes?
But this is not to downplay the significance of the ashes. The ashes placed on our forehead, reminds us of where we came, and where we shall go (Genesis 2:7). The priest in prayer marks the forehead of the Christian saying "You are dust and unto dust you will return." or, "Repent and turn to the Gospel." We receive ashes on our forehead submitting to the will of God and to the passion of Christ. We then offer personal and community sacrifice through fasting, abstaining, and almsgiving. These personal sacrifices leads us as Christians through a conversion process in which we develop an interior life. When I speak of community sacrifice, I mean to say that all of us share in the passion of Christ for those forty days. Within this time frame, we as young Christians, with the Church, are slowly changed by the life of Christ.
If I am the one racing to get ashes without instruction, how can my life be transformed to model Christ? You may be giving a bad example of why and how we should receive ashes.
If it's been a long time since you stepped into a Church, don't make the mistake of trying to be holy when you don’t understand the manual (The Bible), or the teacher (The Church), who shows us how to live for Jesus. Jesus invites you and me to share in His trials and tribulations, so that we may know Him in a personal way. If we as youth or young adults say, "We pray to Jesus night and day, and we believe in Him," then why not share in His life, by receiving properly the ashes on this day in preparation for Lent? The symbol of the ash made cross on our forehead gives testimony of who “I am” as a Christian, and where “I am” going - that is to Christ. It also shows our family, friends, and neighbors that as Catholic Christians, we are making a commitment to Christ. That is why we take the symbol drawn in ash, seriously.
Would you go all out for Jesus? Would you share in his passion? Would you like to learn more about the religious symbolism of ashes? Then open up to the family of God, the Church, so that you can understand the religious significance of this Holy Day.
In conclusion, when you go to Church for Ash Wednesday, don't just race up to get your ashes, you'd be a “show and tell Catholic Christian” with dirt on your forehead! But be like Moses, when God invited him to enter into His "Holy Ground" (Exodus 3:4-5), God invites YOU to embrace Holiness through blessed ash. Embrace the passion of Christ, where this race leads you to heaven, if you know and live the meaning of Ash Wednesday.