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Ash Wednesday

The first day of Lent is commonly known as Ash Wednesday. I remember when I was a child, that was the beginning of a most religious and reflective time of our Catholics lives. Especially if you went to Catholic school and had a mother who was quite handy with a wooden spoon, a leather belt or a ping pong paddle.

The day would traditionally begin with attending Mass in the morning. Following the Mass, ashes would be dispensed (only by a priest) and this would be followed by making a list of things to give up in sacrifice during the Lenten season. My list usually included candy, ice cream, the use of foul language and potato chips. I tried to give up doing my homework and taking out the trash but that would only help mom to hone her skills with the wooden spoon.

Ash Wednesday was also the beginning of fast and abstinence. No meat on Ash Wednesday or any Friday during Lent and no eating between meals. It was Stations of the Cross on Fridays, to go along with our tuna fish, egg salad or cheese sandwich for lunch and spaghetti with tuna fish or a frittata for supper. 

Working in Pacelli’s, (the local Italian grocery store) was also a sacrifice as it was the hardest forty days of the year for the store. Being the only employee of two aging owners, I had the “pleasure” of preparing (loading and rotating) the stock for the holiday specialties. Large prosciuttos stored in the cooler along with salami, pepperoni, ham, basket cheese and grated cheese for the ham pies (apizza gaina). Adding that to hauling countless cases of tomatoes and oil from the warehouse to the shelves in preparation for all the holiday cooking filled most of my time after school.

It’s funny how I could never understand the reasoning behind many of these traditions when I was young. I am definitely old school and in the old school, when children asked questions, the answer given by parents and the “good sisters” was always, “because that’s the way it is”. It never inspired me to further my understanding, it just added to my confusion and frustration. I could never really understand why the world would be a better place because I gave up candy and chips. I never liked the prayer as ashes were being administered, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” I didn’t need to have that dirty spot on my forehead after I groomed my hair for the cute girls in the classroom. I also saw many adults getting ashes and they were mean, nasty and the furthest thing from good Christians there could possibly be. Yet they paraded around the neighborhood wearing their “symbol of Christianity”.

Then as a teenager, I got close to Father Mario. He was a priest ahead of his times. Although he came from Italy, he was not old school. He answered questions. He corrected some of the nun’s incomplete teachings and explained the real meaning of the season and of Christianity.

Keeping holy the Sabbath (he instructed) didn’t always mean you had to go to church. It meant you had to do something meaningful for your fellow man. During Lent, he explained, “Remembering to take time to pray but also, visiting the sick, or helping the elderly in the neighborhood or doing something nice for someone was better than giving up meat or potato chips.

I still skip the meat on Fridays and I still try to make Mass on most Sunday’s even though the Arch Bishop has declared immunity of sin for missing Mass during the pandemic. But I think I have tried to be nicer to people, help where I am needed and if I give something up, it’s so I can give it to someone who needs it more that I do.

So, in preparation for the season, I try to add to my daily routine by doing special favors for those in need, be it whatever I can do to help. I take more time for reflection and prayer and I try to refresh my attitude with kindness and patience. I still skip the meat on Fridays and that might possibly be out of habit or fear of my mother’s paddle. She’s been gone 25 years and she still scares me.

Well enjoy the season and let’s all try to be better people and add something positive to someone’s life. If you do this, you can eat all the candy you want.

Frank

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