I am undone. I arrived at the local Catholic Church a few minutes before the Ash Wednesday service was scheduled to begin and just so happened to walk in with the Priest.
Upon entering, I dipped the tips of my fingers in the holy water. I never pass up an opportunity to partake in the holy water. I need all the holy I can get. Crossed myself. There were about 30 faithful ones at the service. The beautiful older lady who wore a black mantilla. The gentlemen who fell to his knees before accepting the Communion elements.
Often times I want to be seen at church. Visiting with church family I haven’t talked to all week long. This time, though, I wanted to remain unseen. My only purpose in church this morning was to do business with Our Father. I slid into the back row. Sacred space.
Suddenly, I hear a voice behind me say,
“Will you hold this for me just a second please?”
Y’all, it was the PRIEST! He needed to put his wireless mic on so he handed me the tray of ashes and the pestle. I held last year’s palm branches. The sacred elements rested in my hands. I thought to myself,
“What if I dropped these right now?”
The service was beautiful. Full of so much silence. Comfortable, reverent, look-towards-God silence. Right here in the middle of my every day week. In the homily, the priest reminded us that if Ash Wednesday and the forty days of Lent were all we had, it would be a somber day indeed. But he encouraged us to use each act of the Lenten season to point us to Easter. The Resurrection changes everything!
As I left, the Priest stood at the door to greet those in attendance. I told him this was my first Ash Wednesday service.
He said, "Are you Catholic?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “It’s OK. We can still be friends.”
I grew up not thinking Catholics were my brothers and sisters in Christ. I’m not sure who I thought they were. Just other. Today, though, I think the Priest is right. We can still be friends.