"Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospels."
With those words a Basilian father (priest of the Order of Saint Basil) smudged my forehead with ashes in the form of a black cross. It is Ash Wednesday and I just returned from St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, and it is the beginning of Lent, the 44 days of repentance which precedes that greatest of feasts we Christians call Easter. It is a strange day as days go. Catholics all over the world walk amidst civilized folk with smudged foreheads, feeling a bit self-conscious. It is the start of a time of repentance.
St. Basil's Church was overflowing with people as it is every Ash Wednesday. All in attendance received ashes and most received the body and blood of our Lord and Saviour at the mass. For those who take it even a little bit seriously, Lent is a time of beginning again - of renewed purpose - and duty recalled.
The ashes are also a reminder of our mortality and I always experience them as a call to humility before God. When I was a child the priest used to say, "Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return." This was heap big stuff for an adult, let alone a kid. In my mind I still hear those words when receiving the ashes. The words today are not as bleak, but in their own way, just as powerful.
So it begins. Holy Mother of God, pray for us. All you angels and saints, pray for us. Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.