By MOST REVEREND WILTON D. GREGORY | Published March 17, 2011
At the conclusion of the Confirmation ceremony at Prince of Peace Parish a week ago last Sunday evening, Father Eric Hill announced the schedule for Ash Wednesday services to the standing-room-only crowd. He concluded his remarks with the reminder that on Ash Wednesday there would be no self-ashing available! While everyone chuckled at the comment, I kept thinking about his unusual admonition for the next several days—and how very true it was for the entire Church.
Ash Wednesday has every Catholic in the world receive ashes from another person. From Pope Benedict XVI, who received his ashes from Jozef Cardinal Tomko, the Cardinal Titular of Santa Sabina Basilica on the Aventine Hill in Rome where the popes have traveled to begin the Lenten season since that tradition was restored by Blessed John XXIII … to myself who received my ashes from Father Peter Rau at St. Peter Chanel Parish … to the countless thousands of folks throughout our archdiocese and the entire world, we all received ashes that were imposed upon us by another person.
We all begin Lent with an action that connects us to other people.
This past weekend, we welcomed thousands of people who will join the Catholic Church during the forthcoming Easter Vigil. Again the opening days of Lent remind us that we are called together as a people joined and united to one another in Christ. The activities of Lent all remind us that we are related to others—to God through our increased prayer, to other people by our acts of charity, and to ourselves by our fasting. We are created to relate to others—we are not intended to be alone. Lent is the season that calls us to correct and to strengthen all of our relationships.
Each one of the three-pronged Lenten pursuits seeks to bring us into a right relationship with others—including ourselves. The Genesis story that we heard last Sunday describes the disruptive entry of sin into God’s creation, and the result was that all human relationships were disordered—our relationship to God, to other people and to ourselves. Lent is that time of year when we ask God to restore and to rectify those relationships through our prayer, our works of charity and our self-denial.
I invite all of us to find some occasion during this holy season to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and in order to prepare ourselves for that sacrament, we should reflect seriously on how these three relationships within our own lives are disordered and how they might be restored by the grace of God.
This past week, we all have also followed the tragedy that has visited the Japanese people in the wake of the devastating earthquake and resultant tsunami. I will make a contribution from our Archdiocese of Atlanta to the relief efforts that are now being organized through Catholic Relief Services. If any parish wishes to take up a second collection for this purpose or if individuals desire to make a personal contribution to CRS please send those to our Chancery (marked Japanese Earthquake Relief) by April 20 and I will forward all of our gifts to CRS during Easter week. I ask that all of our parishes include a special prayer for those who lost their lives, for all the people of Japan impacted by this disaster, and for all those engaged in relief work in the light of this tragedy.