Thursday, February 11, 2010

A Contemplation for Ash Wednesday

Imagine a city affected by a tsunami, where droves of poor people live on the streets near the beach amidst garbage and stench, where young mothers hold their babies begging for food, digging through garbage and struggling to survive. Both babies and their mothers are undernourished and emaciated. Fear and vulnerability, as well as the incapacity to change anything, capture the onlooker. Questions like “What can I do for these people?” or “How could God let this happen?” fill one’s mind. Suddenly, one is confronted with the eyes of an elderly woman, walking along the road. The woman is dirty, raggedly dressed and carrying a water jug down the street. Imagine she looks at you as if to say, I am Mary “the sorrowful mother!” Her suffering contributes to the darkness—with black marks of desperation, sadness, and hurt on her face. Her eyes beg the question: “Why are you here? Can you enter into my sorrow? Can you allow compassion to transform you? Transform the world?” This woman does not wear a simple black cross of ashes on her forehead. Instead, she is a living reminder to the true message of Ash Wednesday. She challenges the question, “Do we believe in the Good News?” God speaks to us directly through this woman: “Here I am. I am right here, in the midst of my poorest of the poor. How blessed are they, for they shall inherit my kingdom of love.”

As we recall the ashes placed on our foreheads this day, let us see this woman and feel God stir deep inside of us. Live the Ash Wednesday message understanding God’s communion with this “woman.” Wear your ashes and experience the human struggle to survive; hear the Call for help.

The ashes we receive—and this Lenten Season we observe—are about connection, about compassion, about kindness, and about mercy. Examine how to live the Gospel message in your own life these days and reconnect yourself with Christ's Call for you!

—Fr. Chuck Frederico, SJ