Making Ashes

This is the Bulletin Letter that I wrote for the 1st Sunday of Lent.

Dear Friends,

This past Monday morning just before lunch, I changed into my blue jeans and an old sweatshirt. I took the two baskets full of palm from last year, and using a couple of large metal pots from the church basement, burnt the palm down to ashes. We used some of those ashes for Ash Wednesday. Monday was a windy day, so it was a little tricky. The wind seemed to change directions every couple of minutes, so that whenever I moved to avoid the smoke, the smoke seems to follow me.

Since sometime last week, when I first mentioned that I intended to burn the palms on Monday, Father Jim more than once reminded me, “You know, there are plenty of religious goods companies that will supply us with ashes already burned, ground, sifted and packed in little plastic bags already to use. No need to worry about getting your clothes all smelly and maybe your fingers burned.” But I told him that I wanted to do it anyway. I burned palm to make the ashes almost every year when I was pastor in Nagoya, and even some years when I was parochial vicar in Nagasaki. There is just something about watching the flames transform the pale-colored palm fronds into the black ash that captures my imagination and grabs my heart.

Since the beginning of this year, I've mentioned more than once in this column, and in my homilies, about the power that the Gospel has to transform our lives, to transform our hearts. Lent is probably one of the best season of the church year to let the Lord transform us. As I watch the flames transform the palm into ashes, I think of the words that the priests always used in the past when he applied the ashes on the foreheads of the penitents: “Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return.”

God has gifted every one of us with many talents and abilities. Most of us have made sincere efforts to build on those gifts. But the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us that in a way we start over again each year in humility - creatures beginning again from dust with our hearts open to allow the Creator of all, the Lover of us all, our Lord God to transform each one of us into something closer and closer to the image of his Son, Jesus Christ, whom we have chosen to follow.

Let us pray for each other during this period of Lent, that each one of us might respond to the invitation to be transformed, to open our hearts to the grace to be transformed. So that at Easter we might be able to share in the fullest way possible in the victorious new life that Jesus won for us through his death on the Cross and his Resurrection from the grave.

Father Liam