I am not a Roman Catholic so I do not attend church and have the mark of burned ashes placed on my forehead, but this year, as in years past, the ache in my heart for the Father of all things has been growing. I have recognized that I have been falling short in so many areas and I am concerned. I find myself wishing to be able to do something, perhaps to prove my faith and achieve salvation, but I know this is impossible. There is no work any of us can perform to make Him want us. I sometimes think how I have turned away from the direction of the gospels and done things my own way or watered down what I know is right because it was too hard. Then too, my natural rebelliousness is always in play. I find myself thinking, “Certainly I could make a better world than my Father in heaven!!” How He is able to abide my attitude is amazing in and of itself. I know that should He offer to strike down those who are evil with a single blow, I should be one of those hit hardest for I am deserving of judgment. I try and remember that when I become angry at others, but I do not remember that often enough. I know in my heart of hearts how poorly I have done.
I have read that when a priest puts the ashes on your forehead, he speaks about them being a memorial of the dust from which we came and the dust to which we will return. I am reminded that the etymology of Adam, the first man, is thought to be of red clay. A priest might say, also, "As we begin this holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we must remember the significance of the ashes we have received: We mourn and do penance for our sins."
It is not enough to wear the ashes and it is not enough to try to do better. It is only through true penance and prayer that we can make any difference in ourselves at all and even then, perhaps very little. I know people who give things up for Lent, a sacrifice, if you will, and I have no doubt that these are well intentioned. However they are not enough. We must, through prayer and supplication, ask for God's help against our natural character. We do not have to go live in a cave, but we have to center ourselves on what is right in His eyes, rather than the world's.
More often than not, I find myself comparing my actions to those of others and I buoy myself up with the confidence that I haven't done so badly. In truth it's doubly a lie because no one knows what another person lives with on a day to day basis. If knowing God were just about one thing, like success or wealth, then perhaps the richest would win the prize. Not only is salvation not about winning in the world, but all these things we chase after take us away from that which is important in the first place. Yesterday I was reading John 14 and it struck the chord I had needed to hear:
John 14:1 Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
4 And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
I had needed to feel the warmth of Jesus around me, someone who endured such misery and pain in order that I might have a chance at salvation. I can not imagine such a love as that which the Lord has shown to me, not even being able to fathom the agony of allowing His own son to suffer as he did, shedding precious blood for our salvation.
There are so many times in my life where I rationalize that Christ has done it all and that I have only to be loved by him, but he doesn't say that...and this is why Ash Wednesday brings me home to what is important. He told us not to bother with treasures of this earth... and I still collect them. I am ashamed that I may have been hedging my bets so that I might at least survive here well. I have forgotten, too, about the treasures of heaven, those which will be eternal. Why is it that we are so slow to learn, so vain that we must be redirected so often?
So I have made a promise to myself, not to become perfect, but to center on those things which Christ has told us to do, allowing Him to love me as well as following the rules which have been set out for me. Each day I want to read a little and feel the warmth of His love inside me, overflowing and infinite. Hopefully by the time Easter comes, I will have a much better idea of what He wants of me as well as a reborn hope of my relationship with Him. I can only hope that each of you can share this with me.
Matthew 6:21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.