Ash Wednesday

Dateline: Fri 23 Feb 2007

Mist and fog were thick over Indianapolis early Feb. 21, but the sun broke thru on the Northside just as we were picking our way across the ice to enter St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.

The little parish has always been a warm spot in the midst of coldness. When I worked on the copy desk of the Indianapolis Star on Holy Saturday, the night of the Easter vigil, I remember driving past the church at 46th and Illinois at 11 p.m. or later: it was always ablaze with the light of candles, the fire of the faithful. A cheery and hopeful place in a dark and sometimes evil world.

Father Steve Schwab led the Mass for the parish and the school kids, including Gabriel Holladay, age 5, an eager Christian. Father Steve spoke of Ash Wednesday as his favorite holiday; he likes knowing that winter is coming to an end, he likes to wear the color purple, the color of vestments at Lent, and he likes the relief in knowing that, altho he's a sinner, Ash Wednesday reminds we are forgiven.

He compared sin to all the junk that floods into a computer; with God, it's as if He is hitting the delete button and you're clean and new again. OK, it's not quite that simple, but the Mass was geared to little kids and students as well as adults. I know they wanted to hear it, because the day before, Gabriel had shouted, in the car with me, "WE WANT DUST, WE WANT DUST."

That must have been something he learned in kindergarten. I couldn't figure out what he meant -- before that, he'd been shouting 'WE WANT BEACHES!" because the kindergarten was going to have a beach party to stave off the cold and ice.

But when we received communion at Ash Wednesday,or went forward for a blessing, and heard the ancient words, "ashes to ashes, dust to dust," I knew what Gabriel meant. We are dust; we want dust; we want to be loved and to live. We need, want and crave forgiveness.

Just another beautiful day in the big city.

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