“Smudge” Solidarity: Weekly Message for 02-25-2020

Dear Friends in Christ,

Tomorrow Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, and it always reminds me of the comments elicited throughout my life when I went out into the world with that little “smudge” on my forehead. When I was in college, I took a course on Dante’s Divine Comedy and the professor (of medieval literature), said, “I didn’t think Catholics did that any more…” My boss at work was kind enough to tell me I had a “smudge” on my forehead, and his expression went blank as I tried to explain what the ashes signified. That evening I had a job interview out in the country, and the interviewer had large, rowdy dogs outside his house who loved to jump up on arriving visitors as they went up and knocked on the door. When he opened the door he apologized profusely, because he thought the dogs had knocked me to the ground, “smudging” my forehead.

Years later, now a priest, the dry cleaner, since I was in collar, knew the ashes were a religious thing, and just asked whether I had to wear them for all of Lent. As she was speaking, the Latina seamstresses sewing behind the counter said to each other, in Spanish, “¿O, es Miércoles de Ceniza, verdad? Si…” (translation: “Oh, it’s Ash Wednesday, isn’t it? Yeah…”). I celebrated Ash Wednesday that same year for an academy of girls, mostly from Latin America, learning English, and due to the architecture of their school chapel, the pews faced each other, something that normally provoked the occasional giggle incident. Imagine all of them looking at each other’s foreheads, seeing who got off light and who got seriously “smudged.”

I have to admit I don’t remember whether I told them at the start of the homily to just laugh at each other and get it out of their system, but I do remember telling them what those ashes meant as we started Lent: we were all starting Lent together, and we were all in this together and needed to support each other in our Lenten resolutions. In short, “smudge” solidarity. We may not work with many Catholics (or Christians, since other denominations receive ashes too), but when we do see a fellow believer on that day there should be a nod of recognition upon seeing the “smudge.” The ashes last a day, but the solidarity should last all of Lent. It’s not a stretch to say that our Lenten resolutions can put a strain on how we treat others, especially when we’re giving up those things that provide comfort and, to varying degrees, alleviate stress. Charity is the backboard of all our Lenten resolutions. At RCSpirituality we have many Lenten retreat guides that can help you maintain your “smudge” solidarity throughout the liturgical season and beyond.

Have a blessed and spiritually fruitful Lent.

Father Nikola Derpich, L.C.
Online Classroom Manager

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