The Price We Pay for Ashes

by Melannie Svoboda SND on February 20, 2012

A first grade teacher was telling her students about receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. When she was finished she asked, “D you have any questions?” One little girl raised her hand and asked, “Are they FREE?”

I love this true story. Though she was only six years old, the little girl knew how wonderful it was to get something for nothing. I don’t know what answer that teacher gave to that child, but I do know the answer I would give to an adult. Are the ashes free? YES and NO.

Yes, the ashes are free. No collection will be taken up to pay for them. But in another way, the ashes are NOT free. Why? Because the ashes are a way of publicly proclaiming our faith. When we receive them we are saying, “These ashes mark me as a disciple of Jesus.” And being a disciple of Jesus always costs us something. That cost can take many forms: being patient with a whining child, giving generously to your church, making time for prayer, doing small favors cheerfully, forgiving a past hurt, being honest when we’re tempted to cheat or lie.

The beginning of Lent is a good time to ask ourselves: Do my words and actions mark me as a disciple of Jesus? I would also like to hear from you. Do you have any suggestions for Lenten practices that you would be willing to share with us?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Sister Roshini,SND February 20, 2012 at 5:26 pm

Dear Sister Melannie,
You can be sure that i will be looking forward your blog every Sunday. Thanks for all that you share through your writings. you have such rich inspirations. may the Good God keep healing you and bless you.
Roshini SND

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Melannie Svoboda SND February 21, 2012 at 1:35 am

I heard from my cousin Kathy Hassink, a wife and mother of three adult children. She offered these suggestions for Lenten practices and she said I could share them with you:
“Instead of ‘giving up’ a certain food item or denying myself something for Lent, I try to go out of my way to do kind things for people. I wait a bit longer to hold a door open for someone. I take a meal to someone in need, give someone a ride to a doctor’s appointment, make a simple home repair for an elderly friend, etc. Some of my non-Catholic friends have tried to refuse my help, but I tell them they are doing me a favor because I am attesting to my father’s love by doing these extra ‘good deeds.’ Now they even put together little chore lists for me.”

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Diana Harkai February 23, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Hi, Melannie:
Thanks for the post. Ok, here’s my issue with Lenten practices; they seem to have term limits. 40 days. I understand the spiritual importance of having a time to reflect, to be more aware, to sacrifice. I resonate more with your cousin’s comments. Lent still seems to me to be like a short diet, where you want to lose , say, 5 lbs. All well and fine to give up popcorn or fries. Just like a diet, we aren’t able to stay on it for ever. The only way a significant change will occur is to alter one’s lifestyle. Therein lies my dilemma with Lent. How do we make Lent a lifestyle?

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Melannie Svoboda SND February 24, 2012 at 8:15 pm

You raise a good question, Diana. Yes, Lent lasts only about 40 days. But a funny thing can happen on our way to Easter Sunday: our Lenten practices can lead to a small but significant change in us that lasts beyond Lent. For example, if my Lenten practice is to use words to encourage and support people, when Easter comes I may have actually grown in the habit of speaking more respectfully and lovingly to others. Your analogy about the diet is a good one. A good diet doesn’t just deny us certain foods. It teaches us a new attitude toward food and encourages healthier eating habits and even a healthier whole new life style.
Does anyone else have any ideas on Diana’s comment?

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Mo February 22, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Melannie, I love the way you can say or write something so important and make it sound so beautiful and simple to understand.

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Chris Keil February 26, 2012 at 2:01 am

They say it takes 21 days to develop a habit, and 3-6 months to change a life style. Last year during lent I started reading the daily mass readings and a daily reflection. I was amazed how the readings really told the story up to Holy Week. Of course I fell off the wagon, but started again during Advent and managed to keep it up during ordinary time and now again this Lent. Are there days I don’t get the reading done? Yes. But like any good diet, just because you cheated once, doesn’t mean you can’t get back on track at the next meal. Same thing with Lenten practices, it hopefully will lead us to a new and healthier habit and a lifestyle change. God is merciful and forgiving, he understands our human weakness, we just need to forgive ourselves when we fall! Good Luck!

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