I was once told that more Catholics attend Mass on Ash Wednesday than on Christmas or Easter. While I am not sure that this statement is true, I certainly understand why some people may cling to this tradition long after they have shed all other vestiges of the faith. The ashes are an outward sign of repentance before the Lord and the concept of penance resonates deeply within the hearts of all humanity. Although our society often teaches us to shift all blame away from ourselves, to instead place it on our parents, on our education (or lack thereof), on the media, or on the influence of others, there is a sense of peace that comes from taking responsibility for our shortcomings. Only by acknowledging our sins can we truly be free of them.
Although I don’t go as often as I should, I have never taken the sacrament of penance for granted. This is not to say that confession is ever easy. Like most Catholics, the minutes and hours leading up to the moment I step into the confessional are full of anxiety and doubt. My grandfather entered the Catholic Church in December 2010 at the age of 79. When he was baptized, he was cleansed of a lifetime of sin. When I asked him to explain what he felt, he told me that he felt as if a great weight was lifted from his shoulders and all his cares evaporated. I experience this on a smaller scale every time I leave the confessional.
Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality. On Easter, we will celebrate with joyful hearts the resurrection of the Lord. But first we must meditate on his death, for without his great suffering, there would be no reason for joy. May this Lent be a solemn and contemplative season that brings you closer to Christ.
Linking up to Catholic Blog Day Ash Wednesday post on Penance.