A Vincentian View: Marked Men and Women
For the past few years, since I have been back at St. John’s, I have celebrated the 8:00 mass on Wednesdays. It is one of my ordinary responsibilities. Usually, I am joined by 25-30 regular members of the University community. This past Wednesday was, of course Ash Wednesday and the number was considerably larger—perhaps 150 people. The increase in attendance comes as no surprise. Ash Wednesday typically attracts people who recognize their need for repentance and symbolize it with the mark on their forehead. The 12:15 pm mass had twice that many people; the Church was filled. During the day, numerous other settings provided the chance to receive the ashes in various parts of the campus. All these opportunities seemed to guarantee that most of the people whom I encountered during the course of the day were signed.
Wherever I turned, I saw people branded with this mark of penance and the call for renewal. All the confreres, my colleagues, the students, and others “held my feet to the fire” in terms of an awareness of my need to change my life. One insight in this year, however, was that some of these very people who brandished this sign for me are the very ones who challenge me the most. My weaknesses do not come to the fore as often with strangers or visitors, but with those whom I see every day. The ashes on some faces summoned me to mindfulness and conversion.
It seems funny. Words which would never arrive on a person’s lips become eloquently expressed by the ashes on their forehead. They can define and describe for me the extent and direction of my Lenten renewal. “Giving something up” for Lent does not seem to carry the same force, unless I mean “giving up” some ways of thinking and acting and speaking around select individuals. “Doing something” for Lent would involve making time and finding creative ways to relate to some others.
By now, of course, the ashes have (hopefully!) disappeared, but the recognition of whom I need to include in my Lenten resolve remains clear to me. I do not expect to get the whole list managed, but making some progress with one or two would justify Easter joy.