Ash Wednesday, 2015. Woke up recalling how I would dash out to Mass at lunchtime when I worked in the city, come back and wash the ashen cross off my forehead before going back to my desk. It was not a faith-friendly workplace and I chose my battles carefully.
Now therefore saith the Lord: “Be converted to me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning. And rend your hearts and not your garments. (Joel 2:12-13)
The shriven heart, the inward fasting and penance of a contrite spirit. When Peter becomes aware of who Christ is, he falls on his knees and exclaims, “Leave me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). The touch of a burning coal, the mortification and recognition of unworthiness, that we are loved despite this.
“Jesus’ call to conversion and penance, like that of the prophets before him, does not aim first at outward works, ‘sackcloth and ashes,’ fasting and mortification, but at conversion of heart, interior conversion. Without this, such penances remain sterile and false; however, interior conversion urges expression in visible signs, gestures and works of penance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1420).
Create a pure heart for me, O God, and renew in me a steadfast spirit. (Psalm 50:12)
From TS Eliot’s Ash Wednesday:
Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice
And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us