Today, we bear ashes on our foreheads, given with the whisper, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

On Ash Wednesday, the message of ashes is more pertinent than ever.

Ashes are more than an Ash-Wednesday sign of our Christianity and our belief in a God who promises us Eternal Life. They are also about reminding ourselves that God has called us to live a certain way, now!

Years ago, I visited the Managua city dump and personally witnessed a mother sitting in the ashes, in the garbage, holding her dying baby girl. The baby died in the ashes of the dump.

Then, on another mission trip, another woman by the name of Renata inhaled the ashes and fumes of traffic as she begged for food and coins. She inhaled so much that her vocal cords were severely damaged. She died, caked with ashes, in the streets of poverty.

On another Mission trip, a woman found me, covered in ashes and dirt from head-to-toe, but with eyes that cried out to me, “Do you see me?” “Can you be one with a woman of ashes?”

Another and another and another Mission trip, where youth and adults grew in understanding of the “ashes of the poor.”

Flickr: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

This Ash Wednesday, I’d like to take you one step deeper and consider ashes. I suggest that these encounters are an invitation for each of us to understand and live our lives in such a way that we live as one in communion with those who live among the ashes, those whose struggles and level of poverty are beyond anything we will experience. That we each try to figure out how we are to live so as to honor the poor in our world and, by doing so, to honor the God of Justice, the God of Mercy, the God of Hope!

Today, I used ashes that have been blended including ashes from the dumps of Managua (where we’ve rescued HIV-trafficked children), from the work fields of Imocolee Immigrant camps of southern Florida, from the dirt of poverty-stricken regions of ashes in New Jersey, New York, Virginia, New Hampshire, and many other states.

The palms from last Palm Sunday, are burned and blended with these ashes as a further sign that our church must truly be one with the ashes of poverty, one in justice with and for the poor.

These ashes are about acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly with our God and with one another.

These ashes are a reminder to each of us to share hope, compassion, and love with all we meet this Lenten Season.

These ashes are blended and blessed as a reminder that we are one human community, during Lent, during Easter, and always.

Sister Debbie with a child in Nicaragua

This post was written by Dominican Sister of Hope Debbie Blow, OP. As the Executive Director of the North Country Mission of Hope, a spiritually-based humanitarian organization committed to fostering hope and empowering relationships with the people of Nicaragua, Sister Debbie has led sixty-one trips to Nicaragua over the past eighteen years. Learn more about Sister Debbie’s ministry on our site.

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