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Dust to dust and ashes to ashes

HONG KONG (SE): “There is something decidedly public about Ash Wednesday,” Lauren Winter, from Duke Divinity School in Durham, the United States of America, says.

“Walking around all day with a dash of grey ash across your forehead is among the most visible symbolic Christian things that we do all year,” she explains.

Father Eamon Sheridan, from Rosary parish in Tsim Sha Tsui, likened it to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden after they had sinned, saying, “They had nowhere to hide.”

He said that God kept calling to them, “Where are you? And that is what God is asking all of us, especially during this time of Lent.”

Father Sheridan added that this is the same question that is being asked of us by our family, friends and colleagues, and our journey during Lent is our attempt to answer this question.

There can be a temptation to regard Lent as a private time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, but it is essentially a community event.

Yu Siu-po, from the diocesan Commission for Labour Affairs, is encouraging people to socialise their Lenten discipline and use it to contribute to the common good by supporting struggling small business rather than putting their resources into mega-chain stores and designer label outlets (Sunday Examiner, February 26).

Focussing on the tradition of almsgiving, Father John Baptist Tsang Hing-man said at the launch of the Caritas Lenten Campaign, that during this time of year we are all invited to give our full attention to groups of people who are disadvantaged by the world economic order.

The president of the organising committee for the campaign explained to 90 teachers from Catholic schools that Lent is also a time for social orientation and education, as well as a time to be active, involving ourselves by looking to contribute to the common good and support those who are struggling in society.

Caritas will run an education programme entitled, The Paschal Lamb, in schools, parishes and other institutions during Lent.

Winter says that Ash Wednesday is essentially a public event, because Jesus died in public. She says that although Jesus encourages us to do our penance in private, without boasting about how hungry we are from fasting, the Church also has a ministry to call publicly for repentance.

“It calls for repentance inside religious buildings and inside religious communities. But sometimes, calls for repentance need to happen out on the street corners too,” the Episcopalian minister says.

She added that it is also a call inspired by hope. “It is inspired by the hope that comes through Jesus having joined us in our mortality,” she notes.

She concludes by saying that the ash placed on our foreheads is not a liturgical fast food, but an invitation to reflect on our limitations and sin, and our need for God’s grace.

As the liturgical phrase goes, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

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