July 5, 2020

Faith Matters

posted on: Thursday February 18, 2010

Fr. James Cuddy, O.P. / Contributing Writer

There’s a decent chance that I broke my right thumb today. At the very least it’s severely sprained. I’ve been distributing ashes all day, tracing the Cross on the foreheads of students, faculty, and staff at Ash Wednesday services in the chapel. And now at the end of the day, my thumb is twitching involuntarily as I sit at my desk.

While pondering whether Dominicans qualify for workers’ compensation, I couldn’t help but be moved by just how many members of our college community came out to observe the beginning of the season of Lent. I reflected on the enthusiasm of the students I saw pouring out of their labs in Albertus Magnus and sprinting to the chapel to get their ashes.

As I was meditating and praying about these things, I committed my annual Ash Wednesday blunder. Absentmindedly, I wiped my hand across my forehead and smeared ashes all over my face. I trudged off to the bathroom in an attempt to get the black streaks off of my nose and realized that this unfortunate incident was fitting symbol of a typical Lenten problem.

Many of us go through Ash Wednesday with great eagerness and determination. We are resolved to avoid sweets and abstain from using foul language. We are intent on spending more time in prayer and striving to be more charitable to one another. As Lent begins, we leave the chapel with fresh ashes on our brows and a firm commitment to make the most of these forty days.

And then a strange thing happens on our way to Easter Sunday. We can lose some of the zeal. We get caught up in the ordinary business of life. We forget our ashes and next thing you know, it’s Holy Week and we haven’t really taken advantage of the many graces of Lent.

So how do we avoid these pitfalls? How do we make our ashes last throughout these forty days? A good place to start is to recall throughout each day the words that we heard as the ashes were placed on our foreheads: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” This formula—as challenging as it is brief—contains everything we need to have a holy Lent. Say it in the morning as you brush your teeth. Repeat it on your way to class. Ask God to give you the grace to put it into practice in your life. If we can keep this phrase on our lips and in our hearts, we’ll bring the enthusiasm that we share today all the way to Holy Week and beyond.

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