Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent

University of San Diego is a Catholic university that strictly follows a faithful set of religious morals based on the overall principles, attitudes, values, and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church.

Wednesday, Feb. 10 marks Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Ash Wednesday is primarily a Catholic observance in which ashes are marked on the forehead in the shape of a cross on those participating. These ashes symbolize the dust we each eventually turn into after death and are a significant reminder that our time on earth is limited.

The ashes act as a reminder and acknowledgement of both our mortality and our sins. Lent is a 40-day period ending on Easter, in which many people give up indulgences, desires, habits or anything that one chooses to surrender to for 40 days.

The ability to refrain from our personal wants and desires for the allotted amount of time, even with something as simple as chocolate, serves as an act of strength, commitment, willingness, and faithfulness.

Senior Courtney Murphy grew up in a large household devoted to the Catholic faith, which included participating in Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“My grandmother was an extremely Catholic woman and passed those values on to my parents and her grandchildren, so I’ve grown up participating in the holidays and appreciating what they stand for,” Murphy said. “As a child my mom always taught us that it was most important to use the forty days over lent to make an effort to improve yourself. I often set the goal to be nicer to my siblings or spend more time on my homework and studies. I always admired my parents’ commitment to giving up something that was difficult for them. Specifically my dad is a smoker but every lent he always gives up smoking. His determination, struggle, dedication, even if only for 40 days, have resonated with me and for me signify the values or true meaning of lent.”

In addition, this is a period of time meant for reflection, prayer, repentance, fasting, and moderation; all of which go back to the concept of faith and strength. Sundays are excluded during this period because they are considered a celebratory day that represents the resurrection of Jesus and the Sabbath day of rest.

Junior Bethany Mok is a devout Catholic who adheres to the traditional practices of Ash Wednesday and Lent while also adding her own personal touch to the celebration.

“Lent for me is a time of reflection and prayer,” Mok said. “While it is common for most people to give something up for Lent, I like to take something on. This year, I’m attending daily mass, and am working on incorporating mediation as a part of my lifestyle. I am consciously working on complaining less and monitoring the words that I choose to say. I am also working on being intentional in the communities that I am apart of, and the relationships that I have with others. I am looking to be able to serve others in the USD community, but also in the greater San Diego area as well. All of these things tie together with Lent in the sense that Jesus died for my sins and suffered for 40 days and nights, and I am taking conscious actions to in return, serve Him and others.”

Although USD is a Catholic University where the majority of students, 44 percent, are Catholic, there are many students who are not religious or practice different faiths. Few would disagree that it is important to recognize, familiarize, and acknowledge another faith outside your own beliefs and values.

Senior Hannah Guggisberg did not grow up in a religious household, however understands the importance and potential usefulness of celebrating lent and giving up indulgences.

“There’s always a sense of pressure around this time of year to give something up for 40 days whether you celebrate Lent or not,” Guggisberg said. “I haven’t decided if I’m giving anything up yet, I usually don’t, but if I do I think it’d be pretty beneficial to give up some type of social media, like Snapchat.”

There are some common sayings and applications that are a large part of Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. For example, the reference “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” is a common phrase recited during the holiday services and is meant to remind us of our humanity and that we began as ashes and our bodies will ultimately return to dust after our death.

Another major celebration before the beginning of Ash Wednesday that is key to the continuation of partying, is Mardi Gras. Although people often attribute Mardi Gras to crazy partying, outlandish costumes, and heavy drinking, the purpose is to rejoice and indulge in the last day before the Lenten period of moderation and repentance begins.

The USD Ministry recently sent out an email regarding Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“An ancient Christian Practice, Lent is intended to help us deepen our relationship with God,” USD ministry statement says. “During the 40 days of Lent, Christians are invited to reflect deeply on their lives, examine their consciences, and let go of anything that holds them back from being loved by God. There are three traditional practices of Lent – fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. Each is intended to help us receive God’s love more fully. Especially during this Year of Mercy, Lent is a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy.”

Our university community engages in a diverse set of traditions and the goal is to work together as an inclusive population with a shared mission to create a just, rich, peaceful, and sustainable place that extends outside the walls of USD.

Whether you celebrate Ash Wednesday, adhere to Lent teachings, or are not religious whatsoever, it is all apart of a larger puzzle piece that is central to many people’s lives around the world including many students at USD. We must support and appreciate those who are practicing, without judging those who are not.