By all estimates we had easily over 10,000 people at St. Sebastian yesterday; our thumbs are sore, but it was, once again, an inspiring experience! The three regular parish Masses and 4 prayer services were completely uplifting. Some of the people just wanted to get the ashes and run, but most I believe relished the Liturgy of the Word, the words of welcome in the homilies, (and for those at Mass, of course, receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord in Communion).
Men, women, children, babies in arms and carriages, people of every race and ethnicity, an absolutely awesome and awe inspiring day in the life of our parish. At least two little children were afraid of the ashes for some reason and began crying, I gave them a quick blessing and told their moms not to worry. As a practice, I do not give ashes to babies and really young children. I just feel it inappropriate to use the words "Turn away from sin" with these little innocents. What I do is use the second part of the formula "Be faithful to the Gospel" as I touch the top of their heads. Most of the time the parents are fine with that, but on occasion I noticed they moved over to one of the other priests/deacons/special ministers who happily obliged.
Many people just walked in off the street and joined the line, which seemed to be endless. It was something important for them to do. Whether it was early in the morning or in the late evening, whether they wore their ashes for the entire day or just for an hour it didn't matter. It was a connection to past centuries and present faith and an expression of their deepest faith, their fondest hope, and their knowledge of God's love for them!
I'm sure you saw Vice President Biden and his prominent ashes. Think what you may of some of his political positions, I saw the ashes and knew that he was proud of his Catholic faith.
Days like yesterday are so wonderful for priests. If we had that many people every Sunday it would be great, but I'll settle for it twice a year! Now, did I order enough palm?
God bless. Reflection on today's readings to follow later