Praying Hands

“Praying Hands”

Scripture Reflection for Ash Wednesday

by Brandon Jubar

Reading I: Joel 2:12-18
Reading II: 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2
GOSPEL: Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18

Ash Wednesday is an interesting phenomenon to me. The readings tell us to pray in private, to keep our almsgiving to ourselves, and to not do things that trumpet our righteousness for others to see. And yet Ash Wednesday is one of the most popular days of the year for Catholics. It’s not even a holy day of obligation and yet only Christmas and Easter draw more crowds into the pews.

What is it that appeals to Catholics about this special day? Is it the ashes on the forehead that we get to sport around all day for everyone to see? Or is it something more?

What makes Lent so special?

Lent is a special time of year for Catholics. Even though we focus on repentance and sacrifice, it also holds a certain feeling of possibility that can be hard to explain. We are looking forward to Easter and the promise of the Resurrection, which brings with it the hope of new life following a period of suffering and loss.

That pattern rings true to us. We are familiar with it. We suffer, parts of us die, but we hope and long for new life on the other side. It’s the Paschal Mystery – suffering, death and new life – and Ash Wednesday is the first day of the season of preparation. It’s the beginning of our journey towards redemption and new life.

Darkness can’t overcome the night!

Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that Ash Wednesday is so popular with Catholics. Even though Lent is a time when we prepare for the crucifixion, perhaps we know in our hearts that it always seems darkest just before the dawn; and the promise of new life can’t be overcome by the thought of a few weeks of sacrifice and penance.

So if you’re able to make it to a church on Ash Wednesday and walk out with a smudged cross on your forehead, my prayer for you is that you don’t do it to show the world that you’re a good Catholic. I hope that you do it because you’re ready to start the journey of penance and sacrifice that we call Lent. I hope that you do it as a gesture of hope for what follows the darkness – the light at the end of the tunnel – the new life that we all long for.

Life Applications:

What does Ash Wednesday mean to you?
What goes through your mind when you walk out of church with ashes on your forehead?
How do you prepare yourself for Lent?

Copyright 2016 by Brandon Jubar
All rights reserved.