I’ve heard these words since I was a little girl, growing up in the 60s in the South Side of Chicago. Back then we were all defined by the parish to which we belonged. There was deep solemnity, when all of our neighborhood friends and families would converge on our parish to receive the blessed Ashes as a mark of our faith. I would wear my black dress and my black tights, and all my siblings would dress in solemn black. Sometimes our Italian friends would have special celebrations the night before, definitely our Creole friends had a rowdy Mardi Gras, for sure. As I grew up and began my professional career downtown, I found a particular love for this tradition which finds its roots in the Judaic wearing of sackcloth and ashes to signal a period of mourning.
Every Ash Wednesday our faith reminds us that our true and lasting happiness lies in eternal truth, and now that I look on my children and my grandchildren I see this Truth with so much more meaning. I used to love walking the downtown streets of Chicago on this day, with so many professionals of every part of the world racing busily around with sooty crosses on their foreheads. The lines around St. Peter’s in the Loop, the old Fransciscan parish, would wrap around the entire block, and literally last all day long. These days, I find that my memories run so deep and these traditions of our faith evoke such pregnant emotions for my husband, our siblings, my girlfriends and I.
As we began our own family, my husband and I, who share our faith, tried our best to instill these same traditions into our children, but admittedly this wasn’t always easy. Even today, as I prepare to go and receive this beautiful sacramental on Ash Wednesday, I am saddened to realize that not all of my children will do so. And while it secretly pains my heart to know this, I’ve taken to striving toward practicing eternal Truth in the way I love each of them. I know this season of Lent, as we begin walking with our dear friend and savior Jesus, He looks not only at me, but at each of them, too, with eyes brimming with deep love and compassion, and sees each of us exactly where we are at.
This day is a reminder to me that I too am dust, and I want every single day to let those I love know that I love them. I want to surround them with reminders of this, with beauty which will elevate and dignify them even when I’m not there with them. My prayer and my hope for each of you, is that this Lent, you surrender yourselves, your children, and grandchildren, whatever your concerns, your worries, your crises, your wounds, your own crosses into the eternal embrace of our Father, just like Jesus did on the cross – “Into your hands, we commend them”. Because doing so, allows Him to bring about the joy and magnitude of the Resurrection.
Often times it’s a great help to have something practical to hang onto while your’e practicing Lent. If you’re looking for ways to surround yourself with beauty, or ways to reach out and build connection with those you love, click here for some really practical, tangible helpers!