Last week was Ash Wednesday, the day you used to be surprised that someone you knew was Catholic because they arrived to work wearing a fingerprint of what looked like cigarette ashes planted on their forehead. It was always jarring a sight to see since it was always a stark contrast to see someone starched and clean in expensive cloths walking around unassumingly with an obviously dirty forehead. Most Catholics forget it is even there meanwhile your entire conversation is distracted because you can’t stop staring at that dirty face.
It is a ritual that many religions have. This one represents the burning of the palm tree branches that were used during the procession of Jesus to his death hung on a cross. It marks the most important and saddest point in the Catholic Church; all leading up to Easter Sunday which is a happy day representing the miracle of Jesus rising from his tomb going back to heaven. Call it a great fictional story or call it the basic story that determines all life. The Bible is here to stay and people are constantly thanking God at any award show for their accomplishments in life.
What they aren’t doing is attending Church and making time for Masses. Well, there is a severe shortage of priests so many Churches are now sharing clergy and limiting the amount of church services. A new thing this year is that some churches offered open doors all day and put your own thumb print on your head. I thought that was a sin? One year as a boy I put my grandmother’s cigarette ashes on my head and fooled everyone. I felt guilty and thought I would rot in hell for all eternity so I went to confession. Religion is all about feeling guilty so you can become a better person.
This year I didn’t see many people marked by ashes. I hope though that people return to religion since we finally have a newer Pope that seems to be a cool regular guy and not that interested in wearing his ruby red slippers. Sigh. I will list and number some obvious reasons this guy is different and notable. Even if you consider yourself spiritual and not religious you should notice this religious leader. In only a year, the new Pope Francis is different.
He is the first non-European Pope in one thousand years. And from Argentina. His resume is fascinating having worked in a chemical laboratory, loves to dance the Tango and was even a bouncer in a club before he gave his life up to God. Yes, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 Billion Catholics was one of those guys who kicked troublemakers out of dance clubs. Hour can you not love that?
The editors of Time Magazine loved him by naming Pope Francis their person of the year with a cover picture. Considering that the other choices included Senator Ted Cruz and Miley Cyrus, all I can say is Thank God. He has started new conversation’s on important issues:
1.He wants a more inclusive Catholic Church, one that has a larger role for women in it.
2.He wants compassion for victims of abuse by Priests and non-believers and Gays. He said, “Who am I to judge.”
3.He drew a connection between living one’s faith and the very real issue of income inequality. He challenged the trickle down economic theory writing that, “It expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power.” He proves his opinion by living simply.
4. He turned down living in the luxurious Papal Residence and chose a simple Vatican guest house.
5.He drives a Ford Focus and it hurts him seeing Priests driving fancy cars paid for by donations. He says, “Be humble. If you like the fancy one, just think of how many children are dying from hunger in the world..”
He goes on to say, “I prefer a church bruised hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets rather than a church that is unhealthy from being confined and clinging to its own security.” His church sounds like a church that is finally secure enough to adapt to a changing world of same sex marriages, multiple marriages and illegitimate children which is most of what is in the world today. Gone is the days of no sex till your wedding day. Gone are the days of marriage for life. He knows this and somehow without having the nerve to change all the ruled he is at least telling the world to be tolerant of us all and be good to each other.