I wasn't entirely sure if I was going to post this, but I figure, it's my blog, I can post whatever I want, because I'm spoiled like that :)
I just want to preface this by saying, I am not a crazy religious fanatic :) I just happen to really like Ash Wednesday, because I'm weird like that.
In the Catholic church, yesterday was Ash Wednesday. It is the start of the Lenten season, which reminds us of Jesus's suffering for 40 days in the desert, and his crucifixion. It also happens to be one of my absolute favorite Catholic traditions. That may sound weird. It's a day to talk about suffering, and to get your forehead covered in ashes by overenthusiastic priests so that it takes forever to scrub them off. And that's all true, but there are a few things that I love about ash Wednesday.
1. I love the ashes. I don't like how difficult they are to get off, but I love the fact that it's an outward symbol of my faith. For everything that bothers me about the Catholic church (their views on homosexuality and abortion and the barring of women from the priesthood, for starters), I still tell people that I am Catholic and am proud to be a member of the church.
2. I like the sermons. Typically, the focus is not really on suffering. Rather, as the sermon was this year, the focus is on prayer, fasting, and alms-giving, particularly alms-giving. It is emphasized that nothing you do, none of your prayers or your fasting, means anything if you don't do some sort of charity. Religion means nothing if you don't give of what you have to those in need. And that's one of the things that makes me love religion. At its basis, Catholicism is about love, and about giving everything that you have to show that love to other people. And Ash Wednesday is a reminder of that responsibility and promise.
3. I like the history and the ritual. This shouldn't really come as much of a shock, but I love traditions. I like knowing that I'm a part of something that's been going on for generations. And so I love the ritual of Ash Wednesday- the fact that they have been doing this for over a thousand years, and have been using the same words (albeit in different languages). It's a reminder of the cyclic nature of time, and I find it very comforting and soothing. I like knowing that I can count on this happening every year, and can count on the reminder that "from dust you have come, to dust you shall return". The way I take it, it's a reminder that this is just life, don't take it too seriously :)
So, that's my unnecessarily long post on why Ash Wednesday is one of my favorite Catholic holidays. Oh, and what have I given up for lent? Once again, I have given up meat. I did this same thing last year. I'm really bad about remembering not to eat meat on Friday, so I figure that if I just give it up the whole time, I won't forget on Fridays! lol :) It works pretty well for me!