Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of a 40-day pilgrimage toward the joy of the Resurrection. On this day, millions of Christians around the world will hear the words, “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shalt return,” as they are marked with the dust of ashes. Ashes are a sign of pride—we are marked for Christ; and of humility—we are dust, we cannot save ourselves, we need a Savior. More than a dismal season marked by restricted freedoms, Lent offers us the opportunity to come home to Christ. We are given the time and space to examine the parts of our heart that remain stony, and, with the help of our Lord, turn them into flesh. We are presented with a chance to walk in solidarity with Christ as he journeys to the Cross, so that we too might die to self in order to experience new life.
I glanced up as the young man approached, next in line for Communion. He lifted his face, his eyes brimming with emotion as I held up the host and said, “The Body of Christ.” Looking into his eyes as I placed the host on his outstretched hand, he held my gaze with an intensity that took my breath away. He breathed out a soft “Amen” as he closed his hand around the host and lifted his clenched fist up to his chest. Grasping the Bread of Life, clinging to the source of love, he took a deep breath and with every fiber of his being uttered “Thank you!” as tears filled his eyes and flowed freely down his face. His response evoked something deep within me and I could only watch in awe as he consumed the host, a smile breaking across his face as he turned to make his way back to his seat. An encounter of no more than a few seconds, yet one in which God’s abundant mercy and love touched both his heart and mine.
My students often find Christ in unexpected ways. One was invited to wash the feet of a homeless woman. During this interaction, she was asked to cut the woman’s toenails. In the process of doing so, the toenail flung away from the foot and ricocheted off of my student’s head. They both laughed in a moment of communal humility and joy. In relating this incident, she wrote, “I bet this never happened to Jesus.”
Such #neverhappenedtoJesus moments help us think creatively about Pope Francis’ challenge to create homes in our institutions. “A home, as we all know, demands that everyone work together. No one can be indifferent or stand apart, since each is a stone needed to build the home. This also involves asking the Lord to grant us the grace to learn how to be patient, to forgive one another, to start over each day” (Christus Vivit, §217).