Tag Archives: ashes


Just before Mass yesterday, I shared with the congregation a letter I had written to Senator Cory Booker and urged them to join me with a personal appeal of their own. Please consider doing the same.

Senator Cory Booker
359 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Booker:

I appeal to you with confidence because I believe in you as a principled man with a compassionate heart.

I write on behalf of the “Dreamers”.

My father was an immigrant to America, who created a successful textile business and raised and educated three sons and a daughter.

Please give the Dreamers a chance to succeed, as we have, in the only country they know and love.

Father Richard G. Rento


How will Lent go for us this year? What will be the result of the journey? What are we willing to put into it? How firmly do we believe that the return will be worthwhile?

As it has for the past 11 centuries or so, Lent began with ashes once again just a few days ago. Ashes smudged on our foreheads in the form of a cross with spoken words like, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.” Or “Repent of your sins and hear the good news of Jesus.” Or some other expression of basic belief in God and in Jesus, God’s Revealer.

That’s probably the most obvious significance of the ashes: that we are not our own creators and that we are destined to die. That sounds pessimistic, but the pessimism is overcome by the optimism of the one giving the ashes and the one receiving them, both of whom know that the power of death is ultimately an illusion because of the Love that is God.

Five or so years ago, after a full day of Lenten ritual, I watched the news on TV. There was a panel of four persons on a major channel, one of whom, I think a Congressperson, had the black cross on his forehead. I don’t recall ever seeing that before or since. I couldn’t help but wonder what his personal faith was: what did he intend by appearing before millions of people so unmistakably marked?

Over the years of my life, I have picked up many insights concerning the meaning of the ashes, and therefore of Lent itself. Two in particular I have held onto. One I got from a female Protestant minister, Rev. Cari Keith, from my home town of Clifton, NJ, a lovely young woman whose theology, I quickly discovered, was very much like mine. She said that the ashes should remind us of the promise that God is always at work in us, breathing new life into what she called our burnt-up, dried out, dead places – our “I wish I hads” and our “I wish I hadn’ts” — the places where we hurt and fear and are just plain worn out.

And then there was the gift of another young woman, who writes regularly for the Catholic press. Jamie Manson is her name. In anticipation of one Lent, she wrote about the ashes, for which, she admitted, she no longer had had any desire. But then, after her “ah-ah” reaction to one particular scene in the movie, The Descendants, she came to see that – and now I will quote her words verbatim – “The symbol of ashes reminds us of our finiteness, and our finiteness reminds us of the urgency of transforming our hearts and minds.”

That’s what Lent is for: to shake us up and urge us to THINK – think about what needs to be changed in what have become unquestioned, taken-for-granted habits of our life. The prayer of Lent could well begin there: “Spirit of God within me, help me to see myself more clearly, more honestly. Help me to confront myself, maybe as others who most love me want to confront me and cannot succeed because I will not hear them. Illuminate the most important, most sacred relationships of my life so that I may see them as they really are and want to remove from them anything that hurts someone I love and who loves me. Give me the courage to risk the pain I may at first be inflicting upon myself and to summon the patience that will take me — take us — to the incomparable joy and peace of reconciliation.”


I wish you a graced and good Lent.