Gospel Reflections

Feast of Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Feast Day Reflection by Sister Maureen O'Brien

Published: February 10, 2016


On Ash Wednesday a few years ago, I came home after attending an evening Mass in my parish church. When I pulled into the driveway and opened the side door to the house, I saw Abeela sitting on the inside stairs waiting for me. She was the youngest daughter in the Jordanian family who were my downstairs neighbors, and her family’s designated go-between with me! She held a tray of freshly baked flat bread which her mother, Mariam, had made for the family’s evening meal. And beside her was a cookie tin.

For the two of us, this was one of our favorite rituals. She knew that I enjoyed eating her mother’s warm bread. Especially this night, with homemade vegetable soup, after a day of fasting. And we both knew that the cookie tin would not be empty too long! I would fill it with my chocolate chip cookies for her and her four brothers and sisters. But that night, she had something else she wanted to talk about beside cookies. The rather large black cross on my forehead was the focus of her attention. She had not seen anything like it before now. I shared as simply as I could the significance of ashes for us as Christians and the place of Lent in my life with its call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving.

“Just like us,” she said. “Just like us when we follow the prophet’s precept.” “But, Moslems are braver,” I told her. “During Ramadan, you fast for a month from sunrise to sunset.” Her only response was a shrug. “I’m going to tell my father that today you began a holy time when you are just like us.”

Abeela’s words reject the merciless and violent rhetoric which can divide us. “Just like us” is the mantra that I take with me again on this year’s Lenten journey. For it invites me to hold as fast as I can to the message of the entrance antiphon in the Ash Wednesday liturgy: “You are merciful to all, O Lord, and despise nothing that you have made.” (Wisdom 11:24).

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