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Thursday, March 10, 2011

My First Mortification This Lent

Ash Wednesday Mass was beautiful. The church was packed, so the line to receive ashes was long. The lady who sat behind me is a prominent member of the parish. I belonged to this parish for more than twenty years, before moving out of the area and joining another out of necessity. I thought Ash Wednesday would be a good day to visit.

Besides, this parish has noon Mass, while many don't. I like to get our ashes early, so we can wear them throughout the day, even if we're just staying home.

After the ashes were distributed and just before the offering, the lady tapped me on the shoulder. "There are ashes all over the floor. People will step on them during Communion and grind them into the rug."

I nodded. Yes, I thought, that would be a shame. And I casually concluded, but what can you do?

She continued. "I can't kneel down to clean them up. Would you do it?"

I turned around and looked at her. Now?

Anyone who knows me will confirm that I am the ultimate introvert. In fact, I'm terrified to get up in front of people. The thought of going to the front of the church, kneeling down, and cleaning the floor was not on my mental plate. But, I was asked and it seemed the job had to be done.

Reluctantly, I left the sanctuary to go to the ladies' room and grab some paper towels. Then I returned and knelt down in front the altar and began sweeping the ashes. But it didn't work. I was making a mess. Do I stay and try harder?

Sensing that Father was ready to begin the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and being very much aware that I was kneeling down in front of the altar in front of a packed church, I quickly gave up, left to discard the paper towels, and returned to my seat in the front pew. I was glad that was over. The lady behind me quickly thanked me for trying.

Once Mass was finished, I was enjoying the recessional hymn and was singing at full volume, soaking in the remarkable acoustics of the place. In this sanctuary, one doesn't really need a microphone, although the priest is still wired in.

At the last beat of the song, just as I was finishing my final note and closing the hymnal, someone was poking my shoulder. I don't know why, but I thought someone--surely someone, says my ego-- noticed my nice voice and wanted to send a compliment or two my way.

Poke. Poke. Poke. Ooo, get ready to say, "Oh, thank you. That's nice of you to say."

Instead, it was the lady who sat behind me. She looked crossed.

"I didn't mean for you to use water! Or paper towels! I meant that you should just..." Her fingers were making little jerking actions. "...just. pick. them. up. with. your. fingers." And she promptly went up to the altar and began picking. them. up. with. her. fingers.

My first mortification this Lent. I had to smile. Thank you, Lord, for keeping my ego in check.

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