a heart shape cut out of a pile of ashes on a floor

2024 Grateful 46: Hearts and ashes

Ash Wednesday. St Valentine’s Day. One is about fasting; the other is about feasting. Back in 2018 they fell on the same day and will do so again in 2029. It’s not unusual.

An atheist friend of mine calls Ash Wednesday, ‘spot the Catholic day’. I’ve noticed myself doing it, too. The one day of the year when this religion is worn in public.

Twice today I was offered ashes. Once at mass. The second time in a hospital. Both times, they were wet. That’s a new one on me. The ones at mass came from burning the leftover blessed palm from Palm Sunday. I don’t know about the others. But both were more a paste than the flaky ash I remember. Did someone, somewhere change the recipe?

I was surprised at how full the church was. There were more people at mass this morning (and it’s a work day) than at 9.30 mass on a Sunday. I wish someone had been taking an exit poll because I’m curious.

The priest read a lovely reflection that resonated.

A dark cross made of ash.
A sign that we begin again.
A spring clean of our hearts, so we can live.
By doing the right thing for the right reason,
by standing up for those who are afraid,
by feeding those who are hungry,
by sharing with the poor,
by including those who are lonely,
by tending those who are sick,
by caring for the earth,
by spending time in the quiet of our hearts
to realise God’s love for us.
Blessed are these ashes
Bless with your love
Ready to share it with the world.

The line that jumped out at me: including those who are lonely.

I spent the afternoon on a hospital ward.

Six beds.

Six patients.

Five of them had no visitors. Not one.

It’s hardly representative of anything. It’s not statistically significant. There are myriad reasons I’m sure.

But that line was still rolling around in my head.

Grateful for the reminder, I’m going to tip up to the nursing home tomorrow to visit an elderly farmer neighbour. I’ll bring my extroverted self and will be sure to chat to everyone I see. I might be the only non-staff they see that day.

Happy Valentine’s Day and a blessed Lenten season.

For more on the origins of the Grateful series.



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