You may have heard the tall story about the elderly woman in New York who decided to prepare her will. She told her pastor that she wanted him to celebrate her Funeral Mass. Then she wished to be cremated and to have her ashes scattered over Walmart Shopping Center. This startled her pastor who said, “Walmart! Why would you want that? Besides that, Mrs. Murphy, the Catholic Church doesn’t sprinkle the ashes. We only sprinkle holy water.” To which she replied, “I want my ashes to be sprinkled over Walmart. Then I’ll be sure that my daughters will visit me twice a week.”
All right! I can hear you say, “That is really corny.” Well, I’ve got to live up to my long-time reputation. It is interesting that, when I recently shared my wishes with our beloved provincial superior and requested that my ashes be transported to my homeland and interred in the Killilea family cemetery plot, he replied that that would be an excellent excuse for him to visit Ireland where he has long wished to visit. I’m glad that he has a sense of humor and doubly glad that I can promote Irish tourism in this fashion.
All this frivolity takes us to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. In Biblical times those who were repentant of their sins clothed themselves in sackcloth and ashes as the outward sign of their inner repentance. Today, anyone who did so might be encouraged or told to take a bath. In our Catholic culture we have our foreheads marked with ashes from last year’s Palm Sunday palms. Because of the Covid, sprinkling of ashes on the head is permitted. I myself prefer the ashes on the forehead and I’ve always been very generous to those with receding hairlines.
As I type this, Russians are bombarding Ukrainian civilians while the rest of the free world watches from easy chairs. What a travesty. Some say that Putin is a madman. I say he is possessed by the evil one, in which case he should present himself for exorcism. Then it will be time for him to spend the remainder of his days in sackcloth and ashes — in Siberia. Let us pray for the people of Ukraine. Let us pray that the powers of evil are vanquished and that those who are in any way facilitating this outrage be brought to their knees, clothed in sackcloth and ashes.
Anchor columnist, Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Church in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.