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Ash

Posted by arrianebrahimi on February 10, 2016 at 11:30 PM

Today, millions of Catholics around the world are celebrating Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. The ritual of being anointed with blessed ash in the shape of a cross is a central ceremonial part of this holiday, and my school, Saint Francis High School, observed this day by holding a school-wide liturgy. There were many great speakers during the service and, at the end, our school Campus Ministry began the Catholic anointment ritual. The priest invited anyone who wished to be anointed to walk up to the ash bearers with their hands to their sides. Those who did not want to be anointed were asked respectfully to cross their arms and reverently pass.

Last year in my freshman religious studies class, we did a similar ceremony in class. We all prayed and those who wanted to be anointed walked up to our teacher who gave them the ash cross. I chose not to receive the ash because -I told myself- I am a Muslim and this is not something I should do. It was no big deal. Saint Francis is home to a great diversity of faiths so there are always many people who choose not to receive the ash. I must make it very clear before continuing that students at Saint Francis receive no peer pressure to assimilate with Catholicism. The Saint Francis community is very accepting.

This year was different however. My religious views have grown and matured a lot over the past year and I still hold steadfastly the belief that God is real; however, I now believe that different people and different cultures all have different ways of seeing and communicating with the same God. I believe that they are all “right” in their own way because they are all seeking ways to understand the message of a God that humans -in my opinion- can never understand. I believe each faith has its own aspects that are unique and relay a certain interpretation of God’s command that people have thought about for millennia. As such I decided this year to take part in the anointment ceremony. I admit I was actually very nervous. I was not sure how well a non-Catholic being anointed would be perceived. However, the meaning behind the ash that the priest described touched me and I decided that no harm could come out of anointment, so I might as well take it and maybe feel the emotion that Catholics who take it get.

The first person who took notice of the ash cross on my forehead was one of my teammates and a good friend. At first he was confused because he knew I am a Muslim and was wondering why I would take part in a Catholic ritual. I told him, “Why not? There’s no reason I shouldn’t.” He then gave me a strong handshake and said with a nod of approval, “I respect that.” I got similar reactions throughout the day where consistently people were confused then supportive of my action.

My overall message is that I am not saying that people need to throw away their beliefs or that they must do whatever the majority does -I certainly did not. I just personally believe that all people have unique points of view to share, and that these points of view all have the potential to enrich our lives. Today was fun. I discovered the beauty of a part of Catholic faith that I had not truly known before. Better yet, I discovered that people are very supportive of diversity and curiosity. Today, simply by a strengthened confidence to be curious, many doors leading to new world-views have been opened to me.

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