As a frequent traveler, it’s rare that I receive ashes in my home parish. This year, the stars aligned to allow me to attend the noon prayer service at St. Patrick’s. Ready to congratulate myself for arriving two minutes early, I realized that, not only was the parking lot overflowing, but the surrounding streets were filled to capacity as well. (Are the Baptists next door giving out ashes now, too?) Now three minutes late, I rushed inside to find myself five people deep in the narthex of the church. Unable to see the altar, my eyes darted around noticing all these strangers. I felt such gratitude for all the unfamiliar faces that came to get ashes. I prayed that God might allow their hearts to be open this Lent and that they might choose to come back week after week. This year, I thought, maybe, just maybe, they will come home to stay. Standing close to the door, I deputized myself a hospitality minister and held the door for people as they left. One young man said, “Thanks,” and I replied, “Thanks for being here,” in my best “come on back to us” encouraging tone. He replied, “Absolutely, you go to the 10:30 on Sunday, right? I see your family every week. Cute kids.”
Thankfully, the exodus of “strangers” allowed our brief interaction to end, but I felt more than a little embarrassed the rest of the afternoon. Instead of focusing the beginning of my Lenten prayer on “looking for” the Savior, I was looking “to be” the savior. Well intentioned, yes, but in all my prayers for “the lost,” I failed to look inward. I didn’t think about the ways I might be lost, the ways I might be estranging myself from others and from God. Being recognized by a stranger reminded me that the Lord sees us even when we aren’t looking for Him. Prayers for your Lenten journey.