What do you do after the ashes rub off?

Catholics — as well as many other denominations of Christians — fill churches on Ash Wednesday, even though it is not a “holy day of obligation.” They are drawn to it. In recent years, many churches have literally taken the ashes into the streets, applying ashes to the foreheads of all who want them. The ashes, somehow, connect people to the desire they feel in their hearts to draw closer to the Divine. The smudges of ashes on foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a powerful, sometimes moving, witness of the power of God’s love to draw all back to the Creator.

But what do you do, after the ashes rub off?

“Ashes are only an outward sign to remind me of its deeper purpose and meaning: my need for renewal, repentance, conversion and transformation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus,” writes Judy Principe in an essay on Global Sisters Report, and she observes that “Lent is a very long season, and its penitential character can become routine, mundane and commonplace.”

How to keep up for 40 days what we began on Ash Wednesday?

“After the ashes wear off,” she writes, she finds herself asking, “how can I keep the awareness of the commitment to this call to transformation, this personal invitation to the self-emptying, sacrificial love of Jesus?”

Surely that is a question all of us struggle with. How to keep up for 40 days what we began on Ash Wednesday?

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Principe, an associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Philadelphia, finds inspiration for the long journey in the writings of Fr. Jean-Pierre Medaille, the founder of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, and particularly the 100 maxims he gave the sisters in 1650.

Maxims, like aphorisms, are small nuggets of wisdom that aim at inspiring or instructing a person.

Principe says the purpose of the maxims is “to help the Sisters of Saint Joseph and their Associates grow in love of God and neighbor, to consciously place their ego in the service of love, and to grow in freedom to choose the greater good in all their actions and relationships.”

Some of Medaille’s maxims are practical, such as Number 38: “Never complain about anyone but yourself.” Others are something to ponder, such as Number 85: “Advance good works until they are almost finished; and then, whenever possible, let them be completed by someone else who will receive the honor.”

Principe writes that she will try to spend each day on a single maxim beginning with Numbers 6, 46, 61 and 98.

  • Shed old ways that keep you self-centered. Embrace love. Be love.
  • Let the false self and its vanity die out. Be attached to God and God’s dream for you.
  • Seek union with God and let that pure love transform you.
  • Suffering touches everyone. Unite yours to God and all who suffer.

Read Principe’s full essay here: My approach to Lent this year