Thursday, 7 February 2008

the day after ash wednesday

Ash Wednesday ushered in the Lenten Season which comes quite early this year. All of the priests in our community were occupied with a minimum of two masses. The six o’clock evening Mass in our chapel was jampacked, comparable with the masses held on Sunday. It was a day of fasting and abstinence, and so yesterday’s breakfast was really a case of breaking the fast.

So what do we do the day after Ash Wednesday? Continue the spirit of the season of Lent which has just begun—prayer, sacrifice, works of charity: done in an even greater intensity.

However, the day after Ash Wednesday means something else to me. I do not know about our present pope, Benedict XVI, but in the time of the late Pope John Paul II, he reserved the day after Ash Wednesday as the time to meet the clergy of the diocese of Rome of which he is Bishop.

I was able to join such meeting in 2002, when I was a deacon. I looked forward to that day and prepared to wear my best. Together with others I was admitted into the Vatican through the Bronze Door. We were led by Swiss guards through the marble halls until we reached the hall where the Pope would hold the audience. We seated ourselves and waited. Then the Pope was wheeled in. Several parish priests delivered their addresses as did Cardinal Ruini, the Pope’s Vicar in the diocese of Rome. The Pope then delivered a written speech and then spoke spontaneously, a discourse which we all enjoyed.

Then came the awaited moment. We all fell in line and waited to greet the Pope personally. I had wanted to greet the Pontiff with words like greetings from the Filipino people and the Salesians, but the moment I knelt before him, I was speechless in ecstasy. I looked at his eyes and he looked kindly at me. It was a moment I will always savor. This made the day after Ash Wednesday a day for me to treasure. It was a day when I blurted out: I can die now, for I have met the Pope! Much like the
Nunc dimittis of Simeon (cf. Luke 2:29-32). May this Lenten Season on the other hand draw from us the same phrase for in it we meet Christ even more closely. God bless your 40 days!