Ashes and hearts go hand-in-hand at Lent


Talk about worlds colliding. This year Ash Wednesday, the opening salvo to Lent, falls on Valentine’s Day, celebrated with hearts and chocolates.

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics and many other Christians receive ashes, drawn in a cross, upon their foreheads.

In Catholic churches, priests traditionally intoned, “You are dust and to dust you shall return,” although today some say, “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Admittedly, ashes and hearts seem like odd bedfellows, but I’d say Lent and love go hand-in-hand.

When I was a child, I saw no connection between my reluctant sacrifices during the 40 days leading to Easter and the love I was expected to show God.

You see, my image of God was largely based on my earthly father, a quiet, distant man who had little time for me.

He wasn’t the kind of dad who got down on the floor to play with kids, nor was he inclined toward affectionate outbursts.

He did, however, erupt in anger when my sister or I accidentally upended a glass at supper, causing a river of milk to wend its way across the table.

Based on my limited evidence, I pictured God as a faraway old man in the sky, who was prone to anger.

As for Lent, it was an annoying season that involved curtailing my joys and running the risk of provoking divine fury when I cheated.

And I certainly did cheat, once I discovered pepperoni pizza never tasted as good during the week as on Friday, a meatless day for Catholics.

And I must confess that during Lent, the occasional forbidden chocolate cookie was especially toothsome.

As an adult, I realized the 40 days of Lent aren’t intended to cause resentment and guilt. Sacrificing some pleasure — sweets, wine, meat, shopping, Netflix— helps us repent for past sins.

Although some clergy rarely utter the word “sin,” there’s a congregational prayer at every Sunday Mass, year round, called the Confiteor, asking God’s forgiveness for “what I have done and what I have failed to do.”

And if this doesn’t define old-fashioned, garden-variety sin, I don’t know what does.

Have I overindulged at the mall? Lied to get out of uncomfortable fixes? Envied friends for their posh homes?

Have I failed to notice folks in need? Neglected my family?

Christians believe Jesus died for the world’s transgressions —past, present and future —which include the sins we commit today.

We embrace fasting at Lent as preparation for feasting at Easter, when we joyfully proclaim the Resurrection.

The Gospels tell us Christ lived, suffered and died because “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

If Christ could surrender his life for me, what small token of love might I give him? Pricey lattes at the fancy cafe? That weekly shopping spree? The evening chocolates I have while watching movies?

Alms-giving also is part of Lent, so some sacrifices go hand-in-hand with helping my neighbor. The less I splurge on designer clothing, the more money I can put in the collection basket for the poor.

In his poem “O God I Love Thee,” Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins writes, “Why should I not love thee, Jesu, so much in love with me?”

On the face of it, Lent might seem like a dreary season of sackcloth and ashes, and tuna fish sandwiches, but it’s a chapter in the eternal love story starring Jesus Christ.

After all, Jesus explained his death on the cross by saying, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

And the collision of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday sends a striking message, because the ashen crosses we bear on our foreheads symbolize the deepest, most enduring love the world has ever seen.

Lorraine’s latest church mystery in her Francesca Bibbo trilogy is “Death Dons a Mask.” Her email is lorrainevmurray@yahoo.com



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Living

Lisa Marie Presley sues ex-manager contending he lost her $100 million fortune
Lisa Marie Presley sues ex-manager contending he lost her $100 million fortune

Lisa Marie Presley is suing her former manager, Barry Siegel, for “reckless and negligent mismanagement” of her inherited estate, but her estranged husband was quick to call her so-called mountain of debt a lie. >> Read more trending news  Presley inherited $100 million from her rock ‘n’ roll father Elvis Presley...
BET starts production of ‘The Bobby Brown Story’ biopic in Atlanta
BET starts production of ‘The Bobby Brown Story’ biopic in Atlanta

Woody McClain played Bobby Brown for “The New Edition Story” and is now shooting “The Bobby Brown Story.” CREDIT: (left) BET and (right) album cover Posted Saturday, February 24, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog BET, riding off the success of 2017’s &ldquo...
Who won ‘The Rap Game’ season four?
Who won ‘The Rap Game’ season four?

Posted Saturday, February 24, 2018 by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com o n his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog In a season where the kids often struggled in their pursuit to become stars, Jermaine Dupri gave the fourth season crown of “The Rap Game” to the delightfully fun Street Bud from Atlanta. This is the...
What covering the 2017 NRA convention was like

Last year’s National Rifle Association convention brought 80,000 people to downtown Atlanta, and on opening day I interviewed some of the nicest people I’d ever met . Given the heated protests that preceded the April 2017 event at the Georgia World Congress Center and the “fake news media&rdquo...
16th Street Baptist Church: Site of tragedy galvanized a movement
16th Street Baptist Church: Site of tragedy galvanized a movement

The importance of the 16th Street Baptist Church in the annals of African-American history can’t be overestimated. Not only was it the first black church to organize in Birmingham, Ala., it was the target in 1963 of the racially motivated bombing that killed four young girls and galvanized the civil rights movement. As a kid growing up in Philadelphia...
More Stories