Every year across the world, Christians of all stripes go to church on Ash Wednesday to begin the season of Lent. Lent is a season of prayer, penance, and reflection which mirrors Jesus' 40 days in the desert. Just as Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert and was subject to temptation, we too as Christians pray and fast during this time of Lent. Catholics traditionally abstain from eating meat and poultry on Fridays and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This is why you see all the signs pop up on people's lawns advertising Fish Fry's around town. Parishes in good fun often vie for the title of best-fish-fry-in-town.
On Ash Wednesday in particular, Christians will receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads, imposed with ashes as the minister says either "Repent and believe in the Gospel" or "Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return." In the Latin, this latter exhortation begins with the command "Memento" or "Remember."
This is precisely what the ashes are meant to do. Every time we pass a mirror or stare into the glass in a store front, we see the little black smudge on our foreheads reminding us of two things:
1) Who we are: we are mortals. Death comes to us all and we ought to prepare ourselves for it.
2)Whose we are: we are Christ's, marked with the sign of his Cross and therefore hopeful to participate in his Resurrection.
This means that our preparation for death is also a preparation for our Resurrection with and in Christ. We are called to transform our lives and amend our ways, to sin no more and open ourselves to reconciliation with God and one another. Take advantage of the sacrament of Confession this Lent! And on Ash Wednesday, come get a little memento as a reminder!