Last week, I read a short but intriguing letter by Wayne Murphy (“No mention of Ash Wednesday,” Feb. 19) in which he regretted the unusual coincidence of St. Valentine’s Day falling on Ash Wednesday.
To be accurate, I should say that Ash Wednesday this year landed on St. Valentine’s Day, since the saint’s day is fixed while Ash Wednesday moves back and forth with Easter, which itself is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.
Nobody was trying to get in the way of the Valentine’s Day festivities, nor, on the other hand, was anybody trying to interfere with the penitential rites of Ash Wednesday.
We can only blame the poor old moon.
Catholics, and other Christians too, had to prioritize one festival over the other. In our house, we held our St. Valentine’s Day on Shrove Tuesday, which already has a self-indulgent flavour of rhum babas and other pre-Lenten treats. It worked quite well — and when Ash Wednesday dawned we were all in the right frame of mind to go to mass and have our foreheads marked with ashes. Our priest was quite generous with the ashes this year, and we spent the rest of the day sporting big black crosses on our faces.
So to Mr. Murphy, and any other good Christians out there who’re feeling that their faith is under siege — wear your ashes with pride, next time Ash Wednesday comes round.
Mr. Murphy seemed to feel a bit uncomfortable with the secular atmosphere of the city, and it’s not uncommon for urban dwellers to feel that way. Townies like to think themselves a bit too sophisticated for the primitive belief-systems of the peasantry, and if it makes them happy, why begrudge them their condescension? Here in Marystown, in “deepest darkest” Newfoundland, you can go to the office, or stroll about the malls, or drop in at Tim’s for a coffee, and nobody will wonder at your decorated forehead. They certainly won’t belittle you. I don’t know if we have any sophisticated people in our town; I haven’t met them, anyway.
So to Mr. Murphy, and any other good Christians out there who’re feeling that their faith is under siege — wear your ashes with pride, next time Ash Wednesday comes round. It’s useful to be reminded that the human body is recycled after we no longer want it for anything, and our minerals and other elements will be needed by future generations of plants and animals. The spirit, however, will carry on to new adventures in its own natural environment. It’s not foolishness, but a simple statement of fact — matter decays, but energy persists.
Those of us who adhere to the various Christian congregations will have to accept that many other citizens are “contrary-minded,” and press on regardless. We have to be what I call the “Ballsy Christians,” who smile at those who find us ridiculous. Maybe we should even do a little exaggerating, like petitioning the pastor to give us bigger and ashier crosses on our heads next year.
Not that I advocate seeking martyrdom, but a bit of in-your-face Christianity, or Islam or Judaism, or Buddhism, or whatever religion we espouse, would make life more colourful and exciting.
And we really don’t need to get into “competitive religion,” do we? I hope not.