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Ashes for beauty!

01 Mar 2017, by Rev. Fr. Joel Okojie OSA in Events

Every Catholic on Ash Wednesday is signed or wears ashes on the forehead to mark the beginning of the Lenten season and a call to repentance. It is an unusual make-up that beautifies the mind and not the face, an ancient tradition in the Mother Church that has attracted the admiration of even none Catholics. Truly, the spiritual significance of this mark on the forehead cannot be over-emphasized. The words of the priest as he dispenses the ashes says it all: Repent, and believe in the Gospel or Remember that you are dust, and to dust, you shall return.

Among the ancient Hebrews, ashes played a significant role in their relationship with God, though symbolic but reflect reality as it does today. To sprinkle self with ashes, sit on it, or be covered with it was for them a mark of grief, humiliation, and repentance. Tamar put ashes on her head and cried aloud after being raped (1 Sam. 13:19); she grieved and felt humiliated. In 1st Maccabees 3:47, the people prepared themselves to fight in defense of their land by acknowledging the need for repentance; they fasted, prayed, and covered themselves with ashes. When Jonah preached repentance in the great city of Nineveh, the people proclaimed fast; their king sat on ashes in repentance (Jonah 3:5-6). Ashes on our foreheads today are not different; we have been humiliated by our sins, and the Mother Church has proclaimed fast and prayer for all her children. Like the ancient Hebrews, we are marked with ashes today to openly declare our sinfulness and ask for Divine mercy and forgiveness.

The joy of this season is the promise of God to trade our ashes for beauty. Let us not be afraid, therefore, of our past, but repent and let God crown us with beauty. He promised to grant to those who mourn in Zion – to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified (Is. 61:3).

As we carry the ashes of shame and a reflection of unrighteousness on our foreheads, may we truly repent of our sins, and may our works of penance, prayer, and fasting be pleasing in the sight of God. May our ashes be traded for beauty.