Ashes are funny, flimsy things. They blow with any breeze and disappear – like my own resolutions, my resolve in the face of temptation. They’re dirty, too; they smudge fingers and forehead and need to be scrubbed off – like my own sins. As I begin Lent on this Ash Wednesday, Lord, help me not to be an “ash” like that, and to repent of and resist further smudges.

The Church suggests three ways of “repenting” during Lent: prayer, fasting and giving to the needy. I’m doing the praying – that’s why I’m here talking to you. Give me persistence in that, these Lenten days: the grit to ‘waste time’ with you in prayer — even if I don’t hear music and see lights when I pray. (That satisfaction is something I can fast from also…)

But let me think about another kind of fasting: from some small pleasure which, by my not seeking it, will be a reminder to me that real happiness doesn’t consist in things like that. Or bypassing some more expensive pleasure and simply giving that money to the poor.

Or by refraining from some behavior which nourishes the opposite of what I want to become: a person “for others.” For me, Lord, that may be “road rage” which at heart is often grounded in self-centeredness, or sarcasm as a way of asserting my power over others. Or any of the many other things I do which really “smudge” me.

Anyway, Lord, in the Lenten weeks ahead, help me, wherever I need it, to “return to you with all my heart.”

Fr. John J. O’Callaghan, S.J. is senior chaplain for the health sciences division at Loyola University Chicago’s Stritch School of Medicine in Maywood IL