Tonight I attended a lovely distribution of ashes within Mass. One moment that particularly struck me was in the prayers of the faithful, which were divided into a litany on the blessings of fasting, of prayer, and of almsgiving. Those on fasting showed a beautiful confidence in the blessing — not the burden — of liturgical discipline, which was characteristic of the liturgy as a whole. “For those who do too much,” the lector read, “for those who eat and drink too much, or spend too much, or hurry too much, may the discipline of fasting bring simplicity and peace.”
This year, as every year, I find it hard to exempt myself from any one of those categories, and feel the joy of the annual discipline beginning, begging me to break with my bad habits. Once again, the season that I always imagine should drag us all, dour, from our complacent overindulgence, instead draws Christians — on this holy day unobligated — from work, play, family, and mealtimes to receive an anointing of ashes, a blessed reminder of mortality.
For those of us who lead our lives in a surfeit of comforts, it is a comfort to be bound to discipline. May our solidarity with those who lack lead us to the true feast, and may the discipline of fasting bring you simplicity and peace.