"[They] rise again from ashes..."
What an infernal song! I wanted to post my own observations regarding faithful coming out of the woodwork for Ash Wednesday. As any priest can tell you, people flock to church on Ash Wednesday. Many think it is a holy day of obligation; it is not. Let's see, we have certain days that are obligatory and you don't come; we have days that aren't and you do come. Aaaahhhh! I don't like it. I don't understand it. At my last parish on Ash Wednesday, as I pastorally shook hands while people left church, a husband and wife walked by, shook my hand, and said, "Welcome, Father! How long have YOU been here?" I responded, "Oh, eight months now!" They didn't say much more after that.
Last night, at one of my mission churches, the place was packed. There was well over two times the ordinary number of people in attendance and chairs were added all the way to the back wall. So, I figured I needed to strike while the iron was hot. I accomplished a rather smooth pastoral move, if I may say so myself. After the post Communion prayer, I had everyone sit down for announcements. Since the majority in attendance do not speak English well, I asked one of the more fluent Hispanic parishioners to come up, stand at the ambo microphone and translate my announcement (I can read Spanish well, but I don't speak it off the top of my head). But first, I had everyone close his eyes. I know it sounds goofy, but I had a delicate announcement to make and I didn't want people watching to see what group of people I might look toward and think I was brutally chastising people. I told everyone, "I am delighted to see so many people. We are happy to have everyone here. There is only one small, small problem [an understatement, I know]: the shepherd doesn't know some of his sheep and, I imagine, some of the sheep don't know the shepherd. We need to see you here on all Sundays and holy days of obligation. We need you here, not just because we're 'needy', but because you, and all of us, are members of the Body of Christ. When you are not here, we are missing some of our members, we are not whole. Please give us this delight and this joy by being with us more often, in other words: every Sunday and holy days of obligation." Then I had them open their eyes. It was brilliant. No one seemed offended. Quite the contrary, everyone seemed pleased and happy. And those who do regularly attend were so excited that something had been said, in the hopes that we can more frequently pack our little church.
Something about yesterday's Masses also made me reflect upon the catholicity of the Church. Unfortunately (as regards faith practice) and fortunately, you see a larger cross section of humanity on Ash Wednesday. So many new faces and everyone can come up and receive the ashes. It is really a blessing to see it. Of course, I still come back to the rectory afterwards, mumbling under my breath about our anonymous parishioners. But it is a neat day. It is much like the first reading we all heard from the Prophet Joel: "...call an assembly; gather the people, notify the congregation; assemble the elders, gather the children and the infants at the breast;...let the priests...say, 'Spare, O Lord, your people." Obviously the congregation had been notified and young and old, infants, elders, the employed and retired, students and parents, doctors, plumbers, electricians, lawyers, social workers, professors, housewives, nurses, construction workers, homeschool mothers, even an animal control officer had all come together. If only society's leaven would rise up more often! If only society's light would come out from under its basket more regularly! If only society's salt wouldn't lose its flavor so soon. What a great day it is, Ash Wednesday! And it all begins a season of fasting and penance. How could we have gloomy faces like the hypocrites? So, here's to the homeschool moms, the doctors, plumbers, and even the guy who gases our puppies and kittens! Hopefully, we'll see each other again real soon.