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Ash Wednesday

From Fr. Tony Kadavil:


Introduction: Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” The Old Testament tells us how the people of Nineveh (Jonah 3:5), King Ben Hadad of Syria (1 Kg 20:31-34), and Queen Esther (4:16) fasted wearing sackcloth and ashes. In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. The Church instructs us to observe Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply regret for our sins. In Psalm 51, our Responsorial Psalm today, the Psalmist acknowledges his sin and begs God for His Mercy. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer. 

The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day: The priest dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church reminds us a) that our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and b) that our life-span is very brief and unpredictable; 2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins, become reconciled with God, asking His pardon and forgiveness, and do penance; and 3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition, return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance as the prodigal son did and ask Him for the renewal of our life.
Ash Wednesday messages: # 1: We need to purify and renew our lives during the period of Lent by repentance, which means expressing sorrow for sins by turning away from occasions of sins and returning to God. We need to express our repentance by being reconciled with God daily, by asking for forgiveness from those whom we have offended and by giving unconditional forgiveness to those who have offended us. # 2: We need to do prayerful fasting and little acts of penance for our sins and share our blessings generously with others, following the example of 40 days of fasting and prayer by Jesus before his public ministry. Fasting reduces our “spiritual obesity” or the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies, evil habits and evil addictions. It also gives us additional moral and spiritual strength and encourages us to share our blessings with the needy. (L/19)

Introduction: Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. This custom was introduced by Pope Gregory I (served September 3, 590 to March 12, 604; McBrien, Lives of the Popes, p. 96), and it was enacted as a universal practice in all of Western Christendom by the Synod of Benevento (AD 1091). Since the 11th century, receiving ashes on the first day of Lent has been a universal Christian practice. It was Pope Urban II who in the 11th century recommended that all Catholics take part in the practice of receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. In the 12th century it became customary that the ashes used on Ash Wednesday were made by burning the previous year’s palm branches.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply sorrow for our sins. In Psalm 51, our Responsorial Psalm today, the Psalmist begs God for Mercy, acknowledges his sin, expresses his repentance and begs for a “clean heart: and a “steadfast spirit” with which to live a changed life and persevere in it. Saint Paul, in the second reading, advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s Gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer. According to the Bible scholar Dr. Watson, it is one of the great ironies of our Faith that, on this day that seems so negative and so focused on death and sin, more people come to Church than on almost any day of the year, except Christmas and Easter. The reason probably is that today, we are all equally humbled before God, accepting the Lenten message: ‘Repent, believe the Good News, turn away from your sins and turn back to Jesus Christ.’

The blessing of the ashes and its significance: The priest dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous year’s Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us:
1- a firm conviction that a) we are mortal beings, b) our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and c) our life-span is very brief and unpredictable;
2- a strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins and do penance; and
3- a loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance as the prodigal son did.

Ash Wednesday messages: We are invited to produce a real conversion and renewal of life during the period of Lent by fasting, penance, reconciliation and generous sharing.

I- We are to spent time in prayer, talking to God and listening to Him.
Prayer helps us to turn our attention to God and turn away from what keeps us from God.
When we pray, we listen to the Good News God whispers to us in mental prayer or through meditation on the Bible or in the Rosary.
By increasing the quality and the quantity of our prayer, we get strength to fight against our temptations and grow in intimacy or relationship with God. Our prayer life can be enhanced during Lent by participating in the daily Mass, by making the Stations of the Cross, and by reading the Holy Bible every day, applying the message to our lives.

II- We are to fast:
a) by following the example of Jesus before his public ministry, and b) by imitating the king and the people of Nineveh (Jon 3:7), who fasted in sackcloth pleading for mercy from the Lord God; the Syrian King, Ben Hadad (I Kgs 20:31-34), who did not fast, but wore sackcloth and begged Israel’s King Ahab for his life); Queen Esther who fasted, put ashes and dirt on her head and wore “garments of distress” instead of her royal robes, begging God to save her people (Est 4:16); the soldiers of Judas Maccabaeus who fasted so greatly they felt too weak to fight (1 Mc 3:17); and St. Paul who observed “frequent fastings” (2 Cor 11:27).

(Historical note: In the past, the Greek Orthodox Christians had 180 days of fasting and the Orthodox as well as Catholic Syrian Christians had 225 to 290 days of fasting every year. The Roman Church also had a number of fast days. Technically speaking, fasting is now only required on two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in Lent. In the United States, in addition, abstinence alone is commanded on all Fridays of Lent).

Biblical Fasting: True fasting is “tearing one’s heart and returning to God” with true repentance for one’s sins (Jl 2:13). It is “breaking unjust fetters, freeing the oppressed, sharing one’s bread with the hungry, clothing with the naked and home with the homeless, and not turning away from the needy relatives” (Is 58:6-7). Fasting allows us to subordinate our bodily desires and needs to those of our soul. It allows us to control our desires rather than let them control us. By fasting we learn to control a desire that is necessary for survival (eating), and control desires for things that they don’t really need to survive, like drugs, sex or booze. Following the Biblical instruction, let us fast not only from food, but also from foul and dirty language, judging others, gossiping, and verbal negatives.

Advantages of fasting: 
i) – It reduces the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies and evil habits (=spiritual obesity).
ii) – It gives us additional moral and spiritual strength.
iii) – It offers us more time to be with God in prayer.
iv) – It encourages us to share our food and goods with the needy.
v) – “There is joy in the salutary fasting and abstinence of Christians who eat and drink less in order that their minds may be clearer and more receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God’s word, which the whole Church announces and meditates upon in each day’s liturgy throughout Lent” (Thomas Merton).

III – We are to lead a life of penance because:
1 – It is the model given by Jesus.
2 – It was his teaching: “If any one wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me” and “Try to enter through the narrow gate.”
3 – Theological reasons: a) it removes the weakness left by sin in our souls, b) it pays the temporary debt caused by sin, and c) it makes our prayers more fruitful.

IV – We are to enlarge our hearts for reconciliation.
By receiving the ashes, we confess that we are sinners in need of the mercy of God, and we ask forgiveness for the various ways in which we have hurt our brothers and sisters. In the very recent past, our Catholic community has again experienced acute suffering caused by the scandalous behavior of a few of our spiritual leaders. Lent is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation. “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation!” Let us allow the spirit of forgiveness to work its healing influence in our parishes and families.

V- We must share our blessings generously and sacrificially with others by alms giving: Jesus, who gave everything down to his last drop of blood, tells us to follow him, by giving of ourselves, our time, our talents, and our money generously. By Almsgiving, we highlight others as being more important than ourselves and give ourselves to them as Jesus gave Himself to others. Pope Leo XIII said, “Once the demands of necessity and propriety have been met, the rest of your money belongs to the poor.” St. John Chrysostom said—and St. Ambrose echoed him—”For the man who has two shirts in his closet, one belongs to him; the other belongs to the man who has no shirt.”

Pope Francis’ Ash Wednesday message summarized (March 2017): Lent, the Holy Father reminded, is the time for saying no. “No to the spiritual asphyxia born of the pollution caused by indifference, by thinking that other people’s lives are not my concern, and by every attempt to trivialize life, especially the lives of those whose flesh is burdened by so much superficiality. Lent means saying no to the toxic pollution of empty and meaningless words, of harsh and hasty criticism, of simplistic analyses that fail to grasp the complexity of problems, especially the problems of those who suffer the most. “Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia of a prayer that soothes our conscience, of an almsgiving that leaves us self-satisfied, of a fasting that makes us feel good. Lent is the time to say no to the asphyxia born of relationships that exclude, that try to find God while avoiding the wounds of Christ present in the wounds of his brothers and sisters: in a word, all those forms of spirituality that reduce the faith to a ghetto culture, a culture of exclusion.” Time to Remember:
Lent, he added, is a time for remembering, and asking ourselves what we would be if God had closed his doors to us. “What would we be without his mercy that never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew? “It is a time to set aside everything that isolates us, encloses us and paralyzes us.” Pope Francis concluded, noting, “Lent is a time of compassion”

Ash Wednesday anecdotes: (“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Consequently, stories often pack more punch than sermons. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story. Jesus did it. He called his stories ‘parables.'”(Janet Litherland, Storytelling from the Bible). In fact Mark 4:34 says, “he [Jesus] did not speak to them without a parable…”Visit the article: Picturing the Kingdom of God by Fr. Brian Cavanaugh, TOR:http://www.appleseeds.org/picture.htm).

1) Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign? Some of the senior citizens here today can remember a song that was popular exactly 48 years ago this year.  In 1971, a group from Canada called the Five Man Electrical Band had a hit called Signs.” The song is about how signs are always telling us what to do, and the chorus says, “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” Almost five decades later, the question it poses – “Can’t you read the sign?” — is one we might ask ourselves today. We are going to be signed with ash in the sign of our Faith, the cross. “Can’t you read the sign?” The cross of ashes means that we are making a commitment – that we are undertaking Lent as a season of prayer and penitence, of dying to ourselves. It also describes our human condition: it says that we are broken and need repair; that we are sinners and need redemption. Most importantly, it tells us that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry our crosses. It also reminds us that we are dust and ashes – mortal human beings carrying an immortal soul. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/)

2) The Potato Salad Promise: Tony Campolo tells about a Church that one day every year celebrates student recognition day. One year, after several students had spoken quite eloquently, the pastor started his sermon in a striking way: “Young people, you may not think you’re going to die, but you are. One of these days, they’ll take you to the cemetery, drop you in a hole, throw some dirt on your face and go back to the Church and eat potato salad.” We may not like to acknowledge it, but someday, every one of us will have to face the “potato salad promise”, that we will all die. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…..”

3) Kill the Cyclops in you: The Cyclops is that strange monster of Greek mythology with one big eye in the middle of its forehead. We pretend to ignore the truth that, for 325 days of each year, we are all Cyclopes because there is ONE GREAT BIG “I” right in the middle of our heads! If we are skeptical about this assertion, we might watch our words for one day, from morning to night. What’s the first thing we think about each morning? “What am I going to do today? How will I do it? What will happen to me today? How will I feel today?” I, I, I. And all day long, what do we say to people? We say things like, “I think this” and “I think that” and “I agree” and “I disagree” and “I like this” and “I don’t like that” and “I just want to say…”  I, I, I. And what’s the last thing that we think about at night? “I wish that so-and-so would stop doing thus-and-such to me” and “I really did a good job today” and “I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow.”  The problem with seeing with one eye is that we’re half blind. Everything looks flat and two-dimensional because with only one eye, we have no depth-perception. Consequently, we go wrong in assessing people. In Greek mythology, the Cyclops was killed when Odysseus and four of his men took a spare staff of the Cyclops, hardened its tip in the fire and used that to destroy the monster’s one big eye. It is precisely this that we must do on Ash Wednesday. With two strokes of his thumb smeared with ash on our forehead, the priest will cross that “I” out of our head. By this sacramental ritual we are asked to take that “I” at the front of our mind and cross it out by “self-denial” and “self- mortification.” Doing so will help us to see the beautiful creatures of God all around us and replace “I” with “You.”  (Condensed from Fr. J. K. Horn)

Cyclopes                                                                     
4) A living children’s sermon: The Rev. Timothy J. Kennedy tells a wonderful true story that is perfect for Ash Wednesday. It was told to him by a colleague, Pastor Chris Mietlowski. It concerned a Baptism that Mietlowski once performed on an infant named Eric. During the Baptism, Mietlowski traced the cross of Christ on Eric’s forehead using the oil of catechumens. Following ceremony, Eric’s family celebrated the occasion with a big backyard party. Family and friends ate burgers and chips and played volleyball under a summer sun. Eric, being only six months old, was left to nap in his backyard stroller. When Mom got him up, whoops! Basted on Eric’s forehead was the image of the cross. Mom had forgotten to wash Eric’s forehead following his Baptism, and the oil that the pastor had traced onto his forehead acted the opposite of a sun-screen. The Cross of Christ was imprinted on Eric’s forehead as a sunburn. Eric’s Mom and Dad had to explain the cross to the pediatrician, to the neighbors, to the stranger in the grocery store. For a few weeks, Eric was nothing less than a [living] children’s sermon. It was only a bit of a sunburn to be sure, but [it was] the best “basting” a child can have to be marked with the cross.

5) Nail post: As a preparation for Lent, a father wanted his son to really understand the importance of making right choices, of obeying and doing what’s right. And so if his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he’d give him a hammer and a nail to take out into the backyard and pound into a fence post. Every day the son went through the whole day making good decisions, he’d let the boy go out and take out one of those nails. Until the boy was fifteen, there were always two or three nails in the post, -seemed he’d be nailing new ones as often as he’d pull out others. The youth started to mature and make better decisions and finally one day all the nails were removed from the post. That was when his dad took him back and said, “I want you to notice something about the post.” The son looked at the post for a moment and realized that all the nails that once were driven in and then later removed had left small holes in the post. The holes were the remaining effects of the nails. His dad said,” I want to tell you something son, about bad choices and decisions. Even though you may be totally forgiven from your bad choices or decisions, and there are no nails visible, there are the remaining effects, the consequences, of those choices or decisions; just like the holes in that fencepost.”

6) Find someone in need: Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health, and then answered questions from the audience. “What would you advise a person to do,” asked one man, “if that person felt a nervous breakdown was coming on?” Most people expected him to reply, “Consult a psychiatrist.” To their disappointment he replied, “Lock your house, go across the railway tracks, find someone in need and do something to help that person.” -Don’t sit and pout. Get up and do something for others! (Brian Cavanaugh in The Sower’s Seeds).

7) Why are you late to return from school? Ronald Levy, a first grader in Philadelphia, was told to come home directly from school, but he was late almost every day. The difference was as much as 20 minutes. His mother asked him: “Why is it that the schools ends each day at the same time, and you get home so much later?” He replied: “It depends on the cars.” “What do the cars have to do with it?” “Well,” he said, “The Patrol boy was told to stop the cars, so we can cross the road. Sometimes we have to wait for a long time for there to be cars so he can stop them for us!” Lent is the period where God invites us to stop the ‘cars’, so God can get more focus and attention in our lives.

FASTING AND ABSTINENCE FOR LENT
1. Everyone 14 years of age or older is bound to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays in Lent, including GOOD FRIDAY.
2. Everyone 18 years of age and under 60 years of age is bound to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
3. On these two days of fast and abstinence only one full meatless meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s needs, but together they should not equal one full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted on these two days, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige.
4. To disregard completely the law of fast and abstinence is a serious matter.
5. Going to Mass every Sunday, doing acts of charity, forgiveness, and good deeds of virtue are obligations of daily life of Catholics especially during Lent.
  
Give Up
GIVE UP grumbling! Instead, “In everything give thanks.” Constructive criticism is OK, but “moaning, groaning, and complaining” are not Christian disciplines.
GIVE UP 10 to 15 minutes in bed! Instead, use that time in prayer, Bible study and personal devotion.
GIVE UP looking at other people’s worst points. Instead concentrate on their best points. We all have faults. It is a lot easier to have people overlook our shortcomings when we overlook theirs first.
GIVE UP speaking unkindly. Instead, let your speech be generous and understanding. It costs so little to say something kind and uplifting. Why not check that sharp tongue at the door?
GIVE UP your hatred of anyone or anything! Instead, learn the discipline of love. “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
GIVE UP your worries and anxieties! Instead, trust God with them. Anxiety is spending emotional energy on something we can do nothing about, like tomorrow! Live today and let God’s grace be sufficient.
GIVE UP TV one evening a week! Instead, visit some lonely or sick person. There are those who are isolated by illness or age. Why isolate yourself in front of the “tube?” Give someone a precious gift: your time!
GIVE UP buying anything but essentials for yourself! Instead, give the money to God. The money you would spend on the luxuries could help someone meet basic needs. We are called to be stewards of God’s riches, not consumers.
GIVE UP judging by appearances and by the standard of the world! Instead, learn to give up yourself to God. There is only one who has the right to judge, Jesus Christ. (Craig Gates, Jackson, MS, “What to Give up for Lent”)

Jewish public confession of personal and communal sins on Yom Kippur, the “Day of Atonement” (Ash Wednesday is Church’s Yom Kippur)
“What shall we say before You, You who dwell on high and what shall we declare before You, You who abide in the heavens? Do You not know all things already, both the hidden and the revealed? You know the mysteries of the universe and the hidden secrets of all living. You search out the heart of man and probe all our thoughts and aspirations. Naught escapes You, neither is anything concealed from Your sight. May it therefore be Your will, O L-rd, our G-d and G-d of our fathers, to forgive us all our sins, to pardon all our iniquities, and to grant us atonement for all our transgressions.
  1. For the sin which we have committed before You under compulsion or of our own will,
  2. And for the sin which we have committed before You by hardening our hearts;
  3. For the sin which we have committed before You unknowingly,
  4. And for the sin which we have committed before You with utterance of the lips;
  5. For the sin which we have committed before You by unchastity,
  6. And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly;
  7. For the sin which we have committed before You knowingly and deceitfully,
  8. And for the sin which we have committed before You in speech;
  9. For the sin which we have committed before You by wronging our neighbor,
  10. And for the sin which we have committed before You by sinful meditation of the heart;
  11. For the sin which we have committed before You by association with impurity,
  12. And for the sin which we have committed before You by confession of the lips;
  13. For the sin which we have committed before You by spurning parents and teachers,
  14. And for the sin which we have committed before You in presumption or in error;
  15. For the sin which we have committed before You by violence,
  16. And for the sin which we have committed before You by the profanation of Your name;
  17. For the sin which we have committed before You by unclean lips,
  18. And for the sin which we have committed before You by impure speech;
  19. For the sin which we have committed before You by the evil inclination,
  20. And for the sin which we have committed before You wittingly or unwittingly; (For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement))
  21. For the sin which we have committed before You by denying and lying,
  22. And for the sin which we have committed before You by bribery;
  23. For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing,
  24. And for the sin which we have committed before You by slander;
  25. For the sin which we have committed before You in commerce,
  26. And for the sin which we have committed before You in eating and drinking;
  27. For the sin which we have committed before You by demanding usurious interest,
  28. And for the sin which we have committed before You by stretching forth the neck in pride;
  29. For the sin which we have committed before You by idle gossip,
  30. And for the sin which we have committed before You with wanton looks;
  31. For the sin which we have committed before You with haughty eyes,
  32. And for the sin which we have committed before You by effrontery; (For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement).
  33. For the sin which we have committed before You by casting off the yoke of Your commandments
  34. And for the sin which we have committed before You by contentiousness;
  35. For the sin which we have committed before You by ensnaring our neighbor,
  36. And for the sin which we have committed before You by envy;
  37. For the sin which we have committed before You by levity,
  38. And for the sin which we have committed before You by being stiff-necked;
  39. For the sin which we have committed before You by running to do evil,
  40. And for the sin which we have committed before You by tale-bearing;
  41. For the sin which we have committed before You by vain oaths,
  42. And for the sin which we have committed before You by causeless hatred;
  43. For the sin which we have committed before You by breach of trust,
  44. And for the sin which we have committed before You with confusion of mind; (For all these, O God of forgiveness, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement).
1.     From Fr. Tony Kadavil’s Collection 

Introduction

Ash Wednesday (dies cinerum) is the Church’s Yom Kippur or the “Day of Atonement.” Its very name comes from the Jewish practice of doing penance wearing “sackcloth and ashes.” In the early Church, Christians who had committed serious sins were instructed to do public penance wearing sackcloth and ashes. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of full fast and abstinence. Fasting is prescribed to reinforce our penitential prayer during the Lenten season. The prophet Joel, in the first reading, insists that we should experience a complete conversion of heart and not simply sorrow for our sins. Saint Paul in the second reading advises us “to become reconciled to God.” Today’s gospel instructs us to assimilate the true spirit of fasting and prayer.  
The blessing of the ashes and the significance of the day: The priest, dipping his thumb into ashes (collected from burnt palms of the previous Palm Sunday), marks the forehead of each with the sign of the cross, saying the words, "Remember that are dust and to dust you will return" or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” By marking the sign of the cross with ashes on the foreheads of her children, the Church gives us:  

1) A firm conviction that:
a) we are mortal beings,
b) our bodies will become dust when buried and ashes if cremated, and
c) our life-span is very brief and unpredictable; 

2) A strong warning that we will be eternally punished if we do not repent of our sins and do penance; and 

3) A loving invitation to realize and acknowledge our sinful condition and return to our loving and forgiving God with true repentance, as the prodigal son did.  

Life messages: 

We are invited to effect a real conversion and renewal of life during the period of Lent by fasting, penance, and reconciliation.  

I- We are to do prayerful fasting:  

a) by following the example of Jesus before his public ministry, and
b) by imitating the king and the people of Nineveh (Jon 3: 7), who fasted in sackcloth pleading for mercy from the Lord God, the Syrian King, Ben Hadad (I Kings 20: 31-34), who did not fast, but wore sackcloth and begged Israel’s King Ahab for his life), Queen Esther who fasted, begging God to save her people (Est 4:16), the soldiers of Judas Maccabaeus who fasted so greatly they felt too weak to fight (1 Mc 3:17) and St. Paul who observed "frequent fastings" (2 Cor 11:27).

 (Historical note: In the past, the Greek Orthodox Christians had 180 days of fasting and the Orthodox as well as Catholic Syrian Christians had 225 to 290 days of fasting every year. The Roman church also had a number of fast days. Technically speaking, fasting is now only required on two days in Lent, namely, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, abstinence alone is commanded on all Fridays of Lent).  

Fasting:
True fasting is “tearing one’s heart and returning to God” with true repentance for one’s sins (Joel 2:13). It is “breaking unjust fetters, freeing the oppressed, sharing one’s bread with the hungry, clothing with the naked and home with the homeless, and not turning away from the needy relatives” (Is. 58:6-7).  

Advantages of fasting:

a - It reduces the excessive accumulation of “fat” in our soul in the form of evil tendencies and evil habits (=spiritual obesity).
b - It gives us additional moral and spiritual strength.
c - It offers us more time to be with God in prayer.
d - It encourages us to share our food and goods with the needy.
e - “There is joy in the salutary fasting and abstinence of Christians who eat and drink less in order that their minds may be clearer and more receptive to receive the sacred nourishment of God's word, which the whole Church announces and meditates upon in each day's liturgy throughout Lent” (Thomas Merton). 

II - We are to lead a life of penance because: 

1 - It is the model given by Jesus.
2 - It was his teaching: “If any one wishes to follow me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” “Try to enter through the narrow gate.”
3 - Theological reasons: a) it removes the weakness left by sin in our souls, b) it pays the temporary debt caused by sin, and c) it makes our prayers more fruitful.

III - We are to enlarge our hearts for reconciliation.

By receiving the ashes, we confess that we are sinners in need of the mercy of God, and we ask forgiveness for the various ways in which we have hurt our brothers and sisters. In the recent past, our Catholic community has experienced acute suffering caused by the scandalous behavior of a few of our spiritual leaders. Lent is a time for forgiveness and reconciliation. Let us allow the spirit of forgiveness to work its healing influence in our parishes and families. God bless you.

 Ash Wednesday agenda: By Almsgiving, we highlight others more important than ourselves and give ourselves to them as Jesus gave Himself to others. By Prayer, we highlight God as most important in our life, magnifying Him, humbling ourselves (thus realizing the distance between Him and us), and trying to come to come closer to the Lord. By Fasting, we discover our personal self and see who we really are. Cutting, pruning and disciplining ourselves will be part of this job. Doing all these three things with joyful heart and mind will prepare us to rise with Jesus. (Fr. Raj).

Anecdotes

1) “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?”

Some of the senior citizens here today can remember a song that was popular exactly 41 years ago. In 1971, a group from Canada called the Five Man Electrical Band had a hit called “Signs.” The song is about how signs are always telling us what to do, and the chorus says, “Do this, don’t do that, can’t you read the sign?” Four decades later, the question it poses – “Can’t you read the sign?” — is one we might ask ourselves today. We are going to be signed with ash - the sign of our faith, the cross. “Can’t you read the sign?” The cross of ashes means that we are making a commitment – that we are undertaking Lent as a season of prayer and penitence, of dying to ourselves. It also describes our human condition: it says that we are broken, and need repair; that we are sinners and need redemption. Most importantly, it tells us that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are to carry our crosses. It also reminds us that we are dust and ashes – mortal human beings carrying an immortal soul. (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/)  

2) Kill the Cyclops in you: The Cyclops is that strange monster of Greek mythology with one big eye in the middle of its forehead. We pretend to ignore the truth that, for 325 days of each year, we are all Cyclopes because there is ONE GREAT BIG “I” right in our heads! If we are skeptical about this assertion, we might watch our words for one day, from morning to night. What’s the first thing we think about each morning? “What am I going to do today? How will I do it? What will happen to me today? How will I feel today?” I, I, I. And all day long, what do we say to people? We say things like, “I think this” and “think that” and “I agree” and “disagree” and “I like this” and “don’t like that” and “just want to say...” I, I, I. And what’s the last thing that we think about at night? “I wish that so-and-so would stop doing thus-and-such to me” and “I really did a good job today” and “I wonder what I’ll do tomorrow.” The problem with seeing with one eye is that we’re half blind. Everything looks flat and two-dimensional because with only one eye, we have no depth-perception. Consequently, we go wrong in assessing people. In Greek mythology, the Cyclops was killed when Odysseus and four of his men took a spare staff of the Cyclops, hardened its tip in the fire and used that to destroy the monster’s one big eye. It is precisely this that we must do on Ash Wednesday. With two strokes of his thumb smeared with ash on our forehead, the priest will cross that “I” out of our head. By this sacramental ritual we are asked to take that “I” at the front of our mind and cross it out by “self-denial” and “self- mortification.” Doing so will help us to see the beautiful creatures of God all around us and replace “I” with “You." (Condensed from Fr. J. K. Horn) 

3)  A little boy had just returned home from an Ash Wednesday church service. The little girl from next door asked him what the smudge was on his forehead. He replied, "It's Ash Wednesday." "What's Ash Wednesday?" she asked. "Oh," he replied, "It's when Christians begin their diet."

 4)  It was Ash Wednesday, and a woman sifting in a crowded Catholic church, leaned over to the young man next to her and asked: "What is it that brings so many people out on a cold night, to get a little dirt smeared on their foreheads, and to be reminded that they are sinners and that they are going to die?" He looked at her somewhat oddly and said, "It's habit, I guess."
5)  A two-year-old had gone with her family to her church's Ash Wednesday service. She was upset that her mother was not taking her to the altar with the rest of the family. She was overheard exclaiming: "But I want to get a tattoo just like Daddy's!" 

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2.    From the Connections: 

THE WORD: 

The readings for this first day of the Lenten journey to Easter call us to turn. 

In Hebrew, the word for repentance is to turn, like the turning of the earth to the sun at this time of year, like the turning of soil before spring planting.  The Lenten journey that begins on this Ash Wednesday calls us to repentance -- to turn away from those things that separate us from God and re-turn to the Lord. 

In today’s Gospel, from his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his listeners on the Christian attitude and disposition toward prayer, fasting and almsgiving.  Such acts are meaningful only if they are outward manifestations of the essential turningthat has taken place within our hearts.

Around 400 B.C., a terrible invasion of locusts ravaged Judah.  The prophet Joel saw this catastrophe as a symbol of the coming “Day of the Lord.”   The prophet summoned the people to repent, to turn to the Lord with fasting, prayer and works of charity. 

In his second letter to the Corinthians, Paul alternates between anger and compassion, between frustration and affection in defending his authority and mandate as an apostle in the face of attack by some members of the Corinthian community.  In today’s second reading, the apostle appeals for reconciliation among the members of the community, for a re-turn to the one faith shared by the entire Church.

HOMILY POINTS:

As the earth will “turn” toward the sun in the weeks ahead transforming the dark and cold of winter into the light and warmth of spring, so these ashes mark the beginning of a Lenten transformation of our souls and spirits. 

The Spirit who called Jesus to the wilderness calls us, as well, to a forty-day “desert experience,” a time to peacefully and quietly renew and re-create our relationship with God, that he might become the center of our lives in every season. 

3.    Fr. Jude Botelho: 

Once again we begin the season of Lent with this Ash Wednesday celebration. Lent is a time for repentance and renewal yet the Preface of Lent will call it the joyful season of Lent. We should remind ourselves that originally Lent was a time for preparation for Baptism and for Easter. Later on as the practice of adult baptisms died out, it became a time of baptismal renewal as well as a time of repentance and a proximate preparation for Easter. As we begin this new season may we find our joy in coming back to God.

The key ceremony on Ash Wednesday is the imposition of the ashes on our forehead. “Remember thou art dust and to dust thou shall return.” In a sense, this ritual reminds us of our beginning and our end, we are back to basics. It is meant to give us a right perspective of life. We are dust, we are finite, we are human, we are creatures, dependent and capable of mistakes. At times, with all our successes, our possibilities, our capabilities and the power we try to acquire, we are led to believe we can manage on our own, that we don’t need anybody, we don’t need God! Lent puts things in proper perspective. We need God, who does not look down on the dust that we are, our humanness, our weakness, but renew his covenant to human beings, he breathes life into the earth and creates us and recreates us.

 The first reading from the prophet Joel reminds us that sometimes God invited the people of Israel to come back to Him through the great disasters that befell them. It was after one such disaster that the prophet Joel conveyed to the people the message that God would come to their rescue. The disaster that befell the Israelites at that time was the invasion of locusts that came in large numbers from the desert and devoured everything. The prophet Joel called them to prayer and to penance. He assured them that if they came back to Yahweh, He would provide them with food they needed. He reminded them that everyone should do penance, the priests and the laity, the young and the old, even the children. They needed to ask God’s pardon as a family, as one community and God would forgive them all. 

The Nail Post

 A father wanted his son to really understand the importance of making right choices, of obeying and doing what’s right. So if his son made a bad choice or a wrong decision, he’s give him a hammer and a nail to take out into the backyard and pound into a fence post. When the son went through the whole day making good decisions, he’d let the boy go out and take out one of those nails. Until the boy was fifteen, there were always two or three nails in the post, -seemed he’d be nailing new ones as often as he’d pull out others. The youth started to mature and make better decisions and finally one day all the nails were removed from the post. That was when his dad took him back and said, “I want you to notice something about the post.” The son looked at the post for a moment and realized that all the nails that once were driven in and then later removed had left small holes in the post. The holes were the remaining effects of the nails. His dad said, “I want to tell you something about bad choices and decisions. Even though you may be totally forgiven from your bad choices or decisions, and there are no nails visible, there are the remaining effects, the consequences, of those choices or decisions; just like the holes in that fencepost.”

Author Unknown

 The Gospel of today speaks to us of three paths that can lead us back to God: Prayer, Fasting and Alms. Jesus reminds us that these three practices by themselves will not lead us to God unless we perform them with a humble heart. Lent is firstly a time for renewing our prayer life. When we pray, do not pray to be seen or heard by others? Is Jesus against praying in public with the community or prayer group? What Jesus is speaking about is the motive of our prayer practices. Are we putting on a performance? Would we do the same if no one was watching? Our community prayer life needs to be balanced with private and personal prayer. The second practice recommended is fasting and abstinence during lent, but we are reminded that how we do it is more important than what we do. If fasting makes us irritable, if we fast with long faces and put on a gloomy look and make all around us miserable, there is something wrong. The heart of fasting is to do without something that we like and believe we can’t do without, in order to realize that God can supply our every need. What about a weekly fast from our favourite TV serial? The third practice of the devout Jew was almsgiving. Again the admonition is the same: “So when you give alms do not have it trumpeted to win men’s admiration.” Almsgiving is any kind of help, material or spiritual we give to our neighbour. We could help our neighbour in need, we could give them good advice or encouragement, we can help someone in spiritual danger, we can encourage people to attend to their spiritual needs. Perhaps the help that people need is more spiritual than material. Are we bringing people to Jesus by our words, our good example and our deeds? 

A Good Lesson

 A young man, a student in one of our universities, was one day taking a walk with a professor, who was commonly called the students' friend, from his kindness to those who waited on his instructions. As they went along, they saw lying in the path a pair of old shoes, which they supposed belonged to a poor man who was employed in a field close by, and who had nearly finished his day's work. The student turned to the professor, saying: "Let us play the man a trick: we will hide his shoes, and conceal ourselves behind those bushes, and wait to see his perplexity when he cannot find them." "My young friend," answered the professor, "we should never amuse ourselves at the expense of the poor. But you are rich, and may give yourself a much greater pleasure by means of the poor man. Put a coin into each shoe, and then we will hide ourselves and watch how the discovery affects him." The student did so, and they both placed themselves behind the bushes close by. The poor man soon finished his work, and came across the field to the path where he had left his coat and shoes. While putting on his coat he slipped his foot into one of his shoes; but feeling something hard, he stooped down to feel what it was, and found the coin. Astonishment and wonder were seen upon his countenance. He gazed upon the coin, turned it round, and looked at it again and again. He then looked around him on all sides, but no person was to be seen. He now put the money into his pocket, and proceeded to put on the other shoe; but his surprise was doubled on finding the other coin. His feelings overcame him; he fell upon his knees, looked up to heaven and uttered aloud a fervent thanksgiving, in which he spoke of his wife, sick and helpless, and his children without bread, whom the timely bounty, from some unknown hand, would save from perishing. The student stood there deeply affected, and his eyes filled with tears. "Now," said the professor, "are you not much better pleased than if you had played your intended trick?" The youth replied, "You have taught me a lesson which I will never forget. I feel now the truth of those words, which I never understood before: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Author unknown, retold by Artin Tellalian

  Minor Irritants of Life

 A young man had just hiked across a long, barren stretch of land. Reporters asked what he found hardest about it. “Was it the loneliness of the hike?” “No,” he replied. “Was it the hot sun beating down on you?” “No”, he replied. “Was it the dangerous nights by the roadside?” “No”, he replied.  “Well then, what was it?” “The sand in my shoes,” he said. That is often the case in everyday life. It is not the big things that get us down, more often, it’s the tiny irritations! May be, accepting the tiny irritations with family, friends, colleagues, office workers, that come our way each day, could be a good way to start our Lent!

Anonymous 

Renewal

 Once, long ago a musician well-known for the beauty and sweetness of his songs was asked to play for the royal audience. The king was so pleased with the performance that he made the musician part of the royal court. His highness loved one particular song so much that he had the musician play it over and over, several times a day. It went well for the musician who had everything he needed, and fame and prestige as well. After a time the musician grew weary of repeating the melody and no longer played with the same zest and passion as he once did. This disturbed the king, because his favourite song now lacked much of its original vibrancy. So in order to re-kindle the musician’s interest in the song, the king ordered someone, who had never heard the song before, to be brought to the palace everyday. When the musician saw the new person he was inspired and he played with new vigour. But the king was getting tired of finding a new person everyday and so he consulted his advisors who suggested that the musician should be blinded! The musician was drugged into sleep and his eyes put out so he never knew what had happened, and he never saw a human form again. From that time on the blind musician would sit continually before the king. Whenever the king wanted to hear his favourite melody, he would say. “O musician, here comes someone new, a person who has never heard you play before.” And the musician would play his song with the utmost skill and spiritedness, as if for the first time. What is the meaning of this parable? It is left to you to determine! For in the words of an Eastern sage:  “When you go to the market to buy fruit from the green grocer, you do not ask him to chew it for you!”

Anonymous

 Find Someone in Need

 Dr. Karl Menninger, the famous psychiatrist, once gave a lecture on mental health, and then answered questions from the audience. “What would you advice a person to do,” asked one man, “if that person felt a nervous breakdown was coming on?” Most people expected him to reply, “Consult a psychiatrist.” To their disappointment he replied, “Lock your house, go across the railway tracks, find someone in need and do something to help that person.” –Don’t sit and pout. Get up and do something for others!

Brian Cavanaugh in ‘The Sower’s Seed’

 Ready to Change?

 Once, a king was walking through the streets of the capital city when he came upon a beggar who immediately asked him for money. The king did not give him any money. Instead he invited him to his palace. The beggar took up the king’s offer. On the appointed day he made his way to the royal palace, and was duly ushered into the king’s presence. However as he came into the king’s presence he was acutely conscious of his rags and felt ashamed of them. They were an eloquent symbol of the wretchedness of his life. The king an exceptionally kind man, received him warmly, took pity on him, and among other things gave him a new suit of clothes. However, a few days later the beggar was back to begging on the streets, dressed in his old rags. Why did he give up the new suit? Because he knew that to wear it would mean that he would have to live a new life. It would mean giving up the life of a beggar. This he was not prepared to do. It wasn’t that the new life did not appeal to him. It was just that a change of life would be slow, painful and uncertain. In other words he was too much steeped in habit to change.

Flor McCarthy in ‘New Sunday and Holy day Liturgies’

 May Lent find us ready to change whatever needs to be changed in our life with God’s help!
4.    From Sermons.com 

Nowadays the cost of a dinner and a movie keeps going up, and a vacation can be especially expensive, but if I really want to go somewhere I just take the change out of my pocket and lay it on the desk. It's like a time machine. Each coin has a year stamped on it, and just thinking about the year helps me travel back in my memory.  

1979 is the year my first son was born and the year I started in ministry. 1981 and 1983 are the years my daughter and second son were born. 1988 is the last time the Dodgers won the pennant. 1990 was when I moved to Indiana from Los Angeles. 1994 and 2004 were the years I turned forty and fifty. 2002 was when I moved to Pennsylvania. And it's getting harder to find, but any coin with 1954 is my birth year.  

I enjoy laying out the change in my pocket and just glancing at the dates. It's nice to carry these little reminders of important events, good and bad. But they're just one kind of reminder. We carry all sorts of reminders around. One of the most obvious is our date book, which we use to remind us of important events that are not in the past but in the future. We especially need a reminder for Ash Wednesday. It comes in the middle of nowhere. It's not like Christ­mas or Independence Day that fall on the same dates every year. Ash Wednesday is all over the map, from early February to some­time in March. What usually happens is that we notice someone with a smudge on their forehead and suddenly realize: was that today? Really, it's not very convenient. The least Ash Wednesday could do is fall on a Sunday.  

It is an interruption. And it's an unwelcome reminder of an unpleasant fact. Dust we are and to dust we shall return. The grass withers and the flower fades....  
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The Lord's Prayer: A Walking Prayer

 Every evening I walk three miles as part of my losing campaign against high blood pressure and my imperialistic waist line. I generally don't wear an iPod, because I prefer to take my exercise without anesthesia. (I enjoy the sounds of nature, and I want to be able to hear the cars honk before they run me over.) Sometimes I devote the time to prayer, and I have found that the Lord's Prayer makes a good outline. Here's how I do it:

I address God as my Father by adoption through the grace of Jesus Christ and give thanks for His salvation. 

I pledge to keep His name holy in all my conduct. I remind Him of ways I have done this in the past, and ask Him forgiveness for all the ways I have failed to do so as well.

 I ask that His will be done, here on earth through me, as efficiently as it is done by His angels in heaven. I give examples of how I think I could do that; I ask His guidance and pledge my obedience.

I ask for my material needs for the day, itemizing and discussing them. I give thanks for specific instances of His providence in the past.

I ask forgiveness, but only to the degree I am willing to forgive others. If I have a problem, I discuss it in detail. 

If I am facing any particular temptations, I discuss them and ask God to help me resist them. If I have recently survived any tough tests, I discuss them and thank God that He gave me the power to overcome them. 

I tell God about the evil things that frighten me, and ask Him to deliver me from them. I also give thanks for past rescues. 

You get the idea. When you pray like this, it's amazing how time flies! 

Kenneth W. Collins, Praying
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I'm Sorry, Father 

A Catholic priest working in an inner city was walking down an alley one evening on his way home when a young man came down the alley behind him and poked a knife against his back. "Give me your money," the young man said. 

The priest opened his jacket and reached into an inner pocket to remove his wallet, exposing his clerical collar. "Oh, I'm sorry, Father," said the young man, "I didn't see your collar. I don't want YOUR money." 

Trembling from the scare, the priest removed a cigar from his shirt pocket and offered it to the young man. "Here," he said. "Have a cigar." 

"Oh, no, I can't do that," the young man replied, "I gave them up for Lent." 
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 Let Us Play 

My dear friends, let us play. Yes, you heard me correctly. Now is a time for play. In fact, today the church begins that time of the year when we do our most serious playing.

And playing is a serious business, you know. Ask any teacher of children. Better still, watch children at play. No wonder they are tired at the end of the day. They work hard at playing. They take it seriously.

Play is the child's laboratory for learning about life. Children who have never played at being grown-up tend to be handicapped in some way when they have to confront the actual experience. Boys who have never been allowed to play with dolls can hardly be expected to hold their own infants with ease and loving confidence. It has to be a later learning if it is ever learned at all. Play may be a more valuable tool for learning than all the educational resources manufactured by the professionals.


That is why, on this Ash Wednesday, the church summons us to a season of play. Our Lord has told us, if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven, we must become as little children. And one of childhood's most important occupations is play.
Am I wrong in my impression, however, that most of us do not come to church to play, that play is the furthest thing from our minds? Play seems foreign to our understanding of religion, and if it is to be found in church at all, it is best restricted to the nursery and the carefully supervised activities of the youth groups. H.L. Mencken defined a puritan as a person with the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy. I know the puritan still comes to church with me from time to time. What about you?
 

Kendall K. McCabe and Michael L. Sherer
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 Recharging Your Batteries 

An Italian newspaper recently carried a story about a young couple in Milan who seemed particularly devoted in their worship. The priest at a cathedral there reported that the pair spent an hour or more on a regular basis sitting before a statue of the Virgin Mary. Naturally, he assumed they were praying.

Turns out, this young couple was recharging their cell phone. They had noticed a stray electric cable sticking out of the wall behind the statue of the Virgin Mary. Whenever their phone's power supply dwindled, the young couple came to the church and re-charged it from the cable behind the Virgin Mary. The priest states that the young couple is welcome to use his church for this purpose.

We talk about coming to church to "re-charge our batteries," but this is ridiculous. What looked to the unobservant eye like an act of piety was actually a self-serving ploy to save money. This young couple was using the church for their own needs. And we're shocked, shocked, I tell you--until we realize that we may be guilty of the same mistake.
 

King Duncan 
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A Walking Children's Sermon

 The Rev. Timothy J. Kennedy tells a wonderful true story that is perfect for Ash Wednesday. It was told to him by a colleague, Pastor Chris Mietlowski. It concerned a baptism that Mietlowski once performed on an infant named Eric. Mietlowski took Eric in his arms and traced the cross of Christ on Eric's forehead using a special anointing oil.  

Following worship, Eric's family celebrated with a big backyard party. Family and friends ate burgers and chips and played volleyball under a summer sun. Eric, being only six months old, was left to nap in his backyard stroller. When Mom got him up, whoops. Basted on Eric's forehead was the image of the cross. Mom had forgotten to wash Eric's face following his baptism, and the oil that the pastor had traced onto his forehead acted the opposite of a sun screen. The Cross of Christ was imprinted on Eric's forehead. "For several weeks until it completely disappeared," says Rev. Kennedy, "that cross was a wonderful reminder as to the meaning of Baptism and a reminder that the Cross of Jesus was 'written' upon Eric's forehead." 

And what a powerful witness it was, says Rev. Kennedy. "Eric's Mom and Dad had to explain the cross to the pediatrician, to the neighbors, to the stranger in the grocery store. For a few weeks, Eric was nothing less than a [living] children's sermon. It was only a bit of a sunburn to be sure, but [it was] the best basting a child can have to be marked with the cross of Christ! And why not? That cross is to be the foundation of that child's life."

 If I read the little book of Joel right, God's desire is not that we wear a cross on our forehead, but that it be basted on our hearts. "Rend your heart and not your garments," says Joel 2:23. That's much harder to do, isn't it? It's much easier to rend your clothes than to rend your heart. It's much easier to wear a cross around your neck than it is to bear it daily in everything you do.  

Timothy J. Kennedy
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 "Some Christians jump all over the room;
Others are as solemn and quiet as a tomb.
Some lift their hands high in the air,
But others wouldn't, even on a dare.
Christians are different in style and in song;
But if they are humble, to Christ they belong."
 

Traditional
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 Pancake Day  

Every once in a while a whimsical story makes the news. Some years ago, the Associated Press carried a story about a woman in Olney, England, named Dawn Gallyot who defied snow and a biting wind to beat seven other women to the finish line in the annual Shrove Tuesday pancake race. In her first race, the 38-year-old schoolteacher made the 415-yard dash from a pub in the market square to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul with a pancake and a frying pan in her hand in 73 seconds. That was 9.5 seconds slower than the previous year's pace. Each woman must flip a pancake in the frying pan at the start and at the finish of the race. The record is 58 seconds. Mrs. Gallyot reportedly wore a traditional headscarf and apron, but opted for modern running shoes. 

Shrove Tuesday, known in England as Pancake Day, is traditionally the last day for merrymaking before the start of Lent. Pancakes are thought to be a good way to get in the eggs and fat that faithful church people were supposed to give up for Lent. Legend has it that the Olney race started in 1445 when a housewife, dashing to get to church on time, arrived at the service clutching in her hand a frying pan with a pancake still in it.

 The pancake race is but one of many traditions that have grown up around the season of Lent. New Orleans' Mardi Gras is another - one last blowout before a season of denial...