Cleansing Fire

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Ash Wednesday Reflection

February 26th, 2020, Promulgated by Diane Harris

Some years ago, on Ash Wednesday, I was at a board meeting in Santa Barbara, and I managed to find a 5:30 PM Mass at the University and just make it back to the hotel, a little bit late, for a very nice dinner with about 50 people.  Of course, I took a lot of ribbing about a “dirty forehead” and I just smiled.  No explanation necessary.  About midway through dinner, the waiter who was clearing one of the courses kept staring at my forehead.  I didn’t think much more about it, until I got up to go to the ladies room.  He said to me, in the hallway, in very broken English, with a strong Hispanic accent, “You have ashes today.”  I nodded.  He said, sadly, “First time I miss.  Have to work. Two shifts today.  I miss ashes.  First time.”  And I could see that he was very sad.  I told him that I was very sorry for him.  After returning to my table, his sadness was all I could think about.

Then I remembered I had seen laity dispense the ashes.  I said a prayer that I wouldn’t be violating any Church rules, and sought him out as I was leaving after dinner.  He was just returning from the kitchen for another load of dirty dishes.  Stopping him in the privacy of a side hallway, while everyone else went to the elevators, I took my thumb, rubbed some ashes off my forehead, and made a cross of them onto his forehead, whispering: “Remember, man,  thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”  Tears welled up in his eyes.  He said “I have ashes?  I really have ashes?  Can you see them?”  I assured him that I could see them; he kept saying thank you, we both smiled.

Connected for a moment, I know I will never see him again in this lifetime.  He felt blessed, but I was truly blessed, by such opportunity from God to share what I had. Sometimes we don’t know what we have, until we don’t have it.  Every Ash Wednesday I remember his tears, and his joy, and my being blessed too.  And I understand, just a little bit more, about the Communion of Saints.

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2 Responses to “Ash Wednesday Reflection”

  1. avatar Dominick Anthony Zarcone says:

    D., as I read your Santa Barbara Ash Wednesday story, tears welled up in my eyes as well.

    How good of God Almighty to have infused such a hunger and thirst in the man, to have provided for him by a devout and loving daughter in Christ and finally to have made Himself so beautifully present in the encounter between two sincere believers.

    Stories like this always fill me with Joy and Gratitude.

    Thank you, beloved Diane, and May Jesus Christ Be Praised, Now and Forever!

  2. avatar christian says:

    What a beautiful testimony Diane! You choose to seek out that man who had missed getting ashes and shared yours, thus blessing both of you. God was so present in that moment. Your Santa Barbara Ash Wednesday touched me deeply.

    This was the first year that I can remember missing the administration of ashes. I attempted to attend a later evening Ash Wednesday service at a Catholic Church in close vicinity to the location where I was at the time. I had never been at to this church before and knew it was not visible from the street, but was back in a ways off of the long entrance driveway on the street, which was flanked by rows of houses with driveways on either side, and the entire neighborhood. There was not much of a sign out near the entrance driveway to mark the location of the church and there was no light on that sign in the dark. I continued to drive up and down the street looking for the entrance driveway and sign and kept missing it. When I finally managed to locate the unlit sign and entrance driveway, it was when a few cars were exiting the driveway near the sign that had no light. When I noted the time, I figured the evening service was over. I will say that small suburban church appears to be a well kept secret being tucked away out of sight off an entrance driveway amid houses and driveways.

    I had fasted throughout the day and I did read the readings of the day and prayed, so I was able to observe the start of Lent despite not being able to get ashes, which I regret. Hopefully, next year I will get to an Ash Wednesday service.

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