Today has been a remarkable Ash Wednesday for me. For the first time in recent memory, it's been a quiet day of prayer and reflection. As a parish priest, it was one of the busiest days of the year. Now, as a student again, it's a very different sort of day.
As I took a walk I was reflecting on how the ashes of Ash Wednesday were probably my first explicit experience of the Catholic faith.
My Aunt Virginia, may she rest in peace, who was my maternal grandfather's baby sister, got married later in life to a Catholic widower. He thus became my 'Uncle' Timothy. When we were little they would often visit us around the time of my birthday at the end of February and the birthday of my two brothers at the beginning of March. (They are twins, and so have the same birthday, you see.)
Ash Wednesday fell within the nine or ten days between the two birthdays several times during my childhood, (i.e. 1976, 1979, 1981, 1984 (thank you, helpful chart in my 1962 Missale Romanum!)) and that explains why I remember seeing Uncle Tim with the ashes imposed on his forehead. I don't remember thinking anything of it, but the visual memory is quite vivid. There he is, sitting by one of the front windows, reading the paper, ashes on his head.
My Uncle Tim was a quiet and rather mysterious figure in my childhood, but always patient and gentle with everyone. By the time I joined him in the Catholic faith he was already quite sick with final illness and probably didn't even know. But I was able to assist at his funeral Mass as a Catholic Christian, and receive Holy Communion.
Requiescat in pace.
Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.