Ashes to ashes

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“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, if the women don’t get me, the drink it must.” 

It has been 50 years since I first heard those rather irreverent lines spoken by Lee Marvin in the 1969 movie, “Paint Your Wagon.” Now I am not about to further quote from the gospel of Lee Marvin anymore than that of his costar in that movie, Clint Eastwood. 

However, it does bring back to mind that glorious summer of my ordination when I picked up my sister Kathleen, a nurse in Galway Regional Hospital, and we went to the movies. I confess that this flashes through my thoughts on Ash Wednesday every year when we give and receive ashes on our foreheads, signaling the beginning of the penitential season of Lent.

Memories of Ash Wednesdays past bring back to me times of great Spiritual moments in ministry, as well as moments of aggravation. 

I remember churches filled with ardent worshipers intent on making a new beginning in their Christian lives. I also remember the seemingly unending phone calls with the questioner at the other end saying, “What time are the ashes?” 

I believe very much in the practice of patience and the virtue of patience and on such days must have merited some points because I often felt like saying, “Didn’t you see it in the bulletin last weekend?” Those were indeed moments of grace.

Of course patience is very much a part of the Lenten season. The ashes on our foreheads remind us of our mortality and, at the same time, of our need to be patient with ourselves and with others on this, our journey to eternity. The visible sign of the cross in ashes on our foreheads may seem odd or silly to others but perhaps this year it may have served as a reminder, not just of our mortality but that we must respect the religious rights and practices of all faiths. For we are all sisters and brothers in the human family.

Here in Kalaupapa, I believe we do share this respect and while on Ash Wednesday we do not see too many foreheads marked with ashes, I believe that many hearts are marked likewise. We have learned to be patient when the planes get delayed by the weather, or when the power is off for most of the day, as it was today. 

“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, from now to eternity in God we trust.”

Aloha.

Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Parish in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.


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