By CARL E. FEATHER - firstname.lastname@example.org
At just 5 months old, A.J. Pasanen was more interested in the ceiling fans stirring the air inside the church than the deacon’s words stirring hearts to repentance Wednesday afternoon.
Nevertheless, A.J. left St. Joseph’s Church of Our Lady of Peace Parish with ashes on his forehead, as did his mother, Jodi, and grandfather, Larry Mozzocco.
“It is the start of the Lent season of our faith,” Mozzocco said, explaining why he sets the example for his family to attend service on Ash Wednesday. “We need to teach the young ones about this, so they know what the faith is about.”
At Roman Catholic congregations on Wednesday, the message was one of repentance, fasting, prayer and good deeds. The Rev. Philip Miller, priest of the St. Mary/St. Frances Parish in Conneaut, compared Ash Wednesday to coming home to God.
“The season of Lent is a time for returning to the Lord,” Miller told students of St. John School, where he celebrated Mass and imposed ashes on students and staff.
“Life begins with ashes,” said Deacon Rich Johnson, who led the noon service at St. Joseph’s. He said the ashes remind Christians that they are but dust and have an ongoing need to continue their quest for spiritual development.
Scripture readings reminded parishioners that “now is the day of salvation” and they are to be “reconciled to God” through Jesus Christ. In word and song, parishioners lifted the familiar refrain of Ash Wednesday, “Be merciful, oh Lord, for we have sinned.”
Johnson told parishioners that Lent, the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, is a time to receive special graces from God.
“The word of God is always ready to show us the way,” Johnson said. “Let us begin now on this Ash Wednesday.”
Miller, in addressing the students of St. John, told them to focus on prayer, fasting and acts of charity during the season. He compared praying to God as being in a “chatroom where we can sit and talk to the Lord and share our joys and cares.” He said the greatest prayer that the Christian can offer is that of Sunday Mass. Miller encouraged the students and staff to use Lent as a time to start the habit of regular Mass attendance.
Fasting, or denying oneself of something, helps focus the Christian’s attention on Christ. Miller said it can involve giving up something that makes life convenient, such as a cell phone, or a sin that ensnares, such as dishonesty or acting unjustly toward another person.
“Fast from a sinful habit in your life,” Miller told the students.
He also encouraged the youngsters to show their love for God by doing acts of charity toward others. “I can love God only to the extent that I love my neighbor,” Miller said.
Following his homily, Miller assisted with the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of youngsters. “Repent and believe in the gospel,” Miller said as he made the mark of the cross on each forehead.