The First Ashes: A Story of Lent

Dear Henry,

Has anyone ever asked you, "when you heard the call?" 

I've been contemplating this question lately. I seriously approached the Big G and the church on an Ash Wednesday, so every Ash Wednesday has been very nostalgic since then.

When I get that question,  I generally refer people to my posts "Taking the Back Road to Rome" and "Finding God In Gomorrah" to explain how and why I found God and converted to Catholicism. Recently, though, someone realized I was holding back part of the story and asked, "That's it? But what made you actually decide to walk through the door?"

Sigh. Why I chose that day to walk into Mass is a sad story. And because so many of my stories are sad, I don't like to tell them. I feel like a croaking little raven whenever I talk about my life. Plus, there is a weird backstory as well.

The story starts back on my parent's wedding day. As I've mentioned, my parents were raised in a restoration branch of Christianity. At their wedding, they participated in a religious ceremony that was believed to bind their marriage forever.  The religious ceremony was also believed to bind the lives and souls of their future children to them as well. 

My parents divorced shortly after their marriage, and both abandoned their religious faith. Because they renounced their faith, they believe that the Big G won't hold them to their eternal marriage and feel He will give them a choice. But, for whatever reason, they still think they have some eternal claim on their children. 

I really feel I should explain that, even according to the teachings of their childhood religion, this belief is entirely and utterly false (I checked), but it was a deeply ingrained philosophy my parents tried to pass on. As they succumbed further to their addictions and vices, their assumption felt very much like a curse. Finally, after a particularly insidious exchange with my parents (an exchange so hurtful that I could not sleep for three days), I desperately prayed that neither of my parents would have any sort of claim on my soul.

The Big G answered that prayer in a way that left no doubt about who was doing the answering.

In fact, I knew immediately that I had gotten *HIS* attention after that prayer. It was as if the air pressure had changed in the room, and I distinctly remember a moment of real fear. I was also afraid that I may have promised something I couldn't deliver. 

Throughout my life, I've always felt a strong desire to check out Catholic churches, monasteries, etc. The buildings are always so pretty, and I felt very drawn to them, although, I never felt like I had the "right" to enter. Those feelings strengthened after discovering that Catholicism was my only path (see the above posts about that journey).

After the prayer, the desire to check out the local Catholic church was a nearly constant presence, and, additionally, there were now many thoughts along the lines of "Oh! How about trying Mass out on Halloween? Dias de las Muertes was so much fun in Mexico!" and "Midnight Mass, anyone?!? Would be a greatly symbolic time to start a new religion!" When all of the Easter stuff began to appear in stores, I thought about the symbolism of the season and felt drawn to it. I was vaguely aware of Ash Wednesday and Lent and thought the "40 days of Penance" felt more appropriate, all things considered. I made plans to attend the Ash Wednesday service the following week. 

Of course, I backed out the night before. Decided that the whole idea was stupid. Everyone was going to think I was crazy. 

The following morning though.....

"GET UP! YOU'RE GOING TO BE LATE!"  a very jarringly loud thought rang in my head.

"No, this is stupid," was my argument to myself.

Again "GET UP! YOU'RE GOING TO BE LATE!"  a very jarringly loud thought rang in my head.

I'm embarrassed to say that I argued with the voice in my head for a long time, and when I finally gave in, I was a rumpled mess and barely made it to the church on time.

And I realized the minute I hit the door that I should have done this so many years ago. 

While the discipline of Catholicism came very quickly to me (it very much resembles the Stoic/Buddhist philosophical practice I had adopted to survive the accident), I was utterly unprepared for Lent.   As I was leaving, the priest handed me one of the "little black books," Afterward, I returned home and grilled a hot dog. Then, I sat down, cracked open the book, and realized (with a mouth full of hot dog) that I was supposed to be fasting.


But, I didn't stop "practicing" Catholicism that day (although it took a lot of practice before I became a  presentable Catholic) and haven't stopped practicing yet.    

The decision has brought me far too much peace.

xoxo a.d. elliott

P.S. Before you ask, yes, I have forgiven my parents.  You can read my thoughts about forgiveness here: "What Kind of Fudge is Forgiveness Anyway."

You can also read the beginning of my journey to Catholicism in the posts "Taking the Back Road to Rome" and "Finding God in Gomorrah"


a.d. elliott is a wanderer, writer, and photographer currently living in Salem, Virginia. 

In addition to the travel writings at, you can also read her book reviews at and US military biographies at

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