This week we entered into the Lenten season once again. One of the practices within the Christian tradition I have grown to appreciate as I have gotten older is the liturgical calendar and the pace it sets for me as a child of God. Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season, the time we focus upon Christ’s entering into the desert before he would go to the Cross. For us Christians, this is it, this is the time of year that we come together around that which is unique to our faith traditions. We anxiously look forward to the proclamation that “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.”
In our ministry at St. Edward’s University, the Ash Wednesday service draws Christians from throughout our community. For many, it is one of the few times they enter a Church for the year, but on this day, even the casual church go’er is drawn to receive the ashes on their forehead and walk around in public as a living testimony to our faith. At one time in my earlier years, I would have critiqued that these people only show up a few times a year and what kind of Christianity is that. Fortunately, I picked up a little bit of wisdom along the way. What strikes me now is how compelling is the draw of Christ’s love that there is still this desire, even if for only a day, to make a public statement of one’s faith in a manner that is so counter to our prevailing culture. I believe this is God’s grace to us. God never gives up on us!
Reformed and Catholic Side by Side, Who’d have thought!?!
For one of our Ash Wednesday services this year at St. Edward’s, we invited two of our faculty members who also happen to be ordained ministers in their denominations. It was so important for our community to see a Catholic priest standing alongside a minister from the United Church of Christ and a minister from the Reformed Church of America, each giving out ashes.
It took a few minutes for many of our Catholic students to wrap themselves around the idea of a Protestant minister giving out ashes in a Catholic church, but eventually they stepped out in faith and began standing in line to receive ashes from the two Protestant ministers. They realized that Christ transcends our religious traditions.
Unity, not Uniformity
Why is this so important to mention? There is a lot of diversity within the Christian tradition. There have been major disagreements within the Christian community along lines of theology, cultural expressions, political expression, and scriptural interpretation. Our differences, or maybe I should say our uniqueness from one Christian community to another is important, for the knowledge of God could not be held within the domain of all of Christendom over the history of time, let alone within one expression of it.
Yet, it is this time of year that we find a common unity that surpasses any of our differences. Each of us share and proclaim the common understanding and belief in the death and resurrection of Christ. For any Christian, there is no denying this. On other things we can disagree, yet on this, we must and do come together in our common faith.
Christ calls us to reconciliation with each other so that we might reconcile with God. Let us walk this Lenten season with a deep sense of our unity in the death and resurrection of Christ.
Dr. James Puglisi is the Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas. He received his B.A. from Allegheny College, Meadville, PA in Anthropology of Religions received his Doctor of Ministry from Catholic Theological Union in the area of Practical Theology. His doctoral writing was titled “Shalom: The Role of Truth Telling in Creating Communities of Racial Reconciliation within Institutions of Christian Higher Education.” He teaches courses in the area of migration and culture and has presented at conferences on racial reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue. He is originally from Pittsburgh, PA.