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The Symbolism of Ashes

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The liturgical use of ashes can be found throughout the Old Testament. Ashes symbolized penance, mourning, and mortality. the prophet Daniel wrote, "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes." -Daniel 9:3. This and other Old Testament examples illustrate a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.

Jesus Himself made reference to ashes: "If they miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago." -Matthew 11:21

In the early Church, those required to do public penance had the priest sprinkle ashes on their heads upon leaving confession. Since the Middle Ages, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, as we remember our mortality and sorrow for our sins.

In our present Ash Wednesday liturgy, ashes made from burned palm branches distributed on Palm Sunday of the previous year, are blessed by the priest or deacon and imposed on the foreheads of the faithful, making a sign of the cross and saying, "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

 

Give Hope

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The first week of Advent asks us  to ponder the virtue of hope. Are you looking for a way to give hope in preparation for Jesus? Try this.

In the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta:
Jesus wants us to prepare the way for his coming, for there are so many blocks in the way of his becoming all in all for us. Give him whatever he takes and take from him whatever he gives with a big smile.
Be a cause of joy to others.
Speak well of everybody
Smile at all you meet.
Deliberately make three acts of loving kindness every day.
Confess any sin against charity.
If you offend anyone - even a small child - ask forgiveness before going to bed.
Read about, meditate on, and speak of this love.

Our Father

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Without a doubt, the “Our Father” is the most universally recognized Christian prayer, uniting believers throughout the world.  It’s a prayer that many of us learned as children and has become so routine, that we might rattle off the words without giving a second thought to their meaning or what we are asking of God.

As I reflect on the words of the Lord’s Prayer, I was struck by three distinct phrases that inspire and challenge me.

First, “Our Father…” We address God in a most personal way. God is our father and we are his children, no different than the loving, caring, relationships we hold dear with our children and families.

“Thy will be done…” In a world that promotes self-centeredness and that it’s all about me…we state in the Lord’s Prayer that it’s not about my wants, but God’s will which is to be done.

The third phrase, and most significant: “Forgive us, as we forgive…” How do we want God to treat us?  By forgiving us in the manner that we forgive others.  How we act towards others, is how we are asking God to treat us!

C. S. Lewis wrote: “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it means to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves.

The next time you pray the most common of Christian prayers, “The Lord’s Prayer,” reflect on what the words truly mean and what you are asking of God, “Our Father.” I guarantee your prayer will take on a whole new meaning and become anything but common.

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