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The Ashes in my Own Heart

February 12, 2021

Dear Friends on the Journey,

Well, it’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Traditionally this has been our biggest day of the year, at least by sheer numbers of visitors. But we will not be having any in-person worship on that day, and therefore no distribution of Ashes. So we invite you to join us for our 7pm Wednesday Prayer Service on Zoom, hosted and led by our Paulist Center’s LGBTQ group.

What is Ash Wednesday without ashes? This meditation crossed my desk, from writer Joyce Rupp, and I share it with you. She began by quoting from Isabel Wilkerson’s Caste and commenting after (with a few of my sentences):

The ash rose from the crematorium into the air…and settled onto the front steps and geranium beds of the townspeople living outside the gates of death at [the death camp] north of Berlin. The ash coated the swings sets and paddling pools in the backyards of the townspeople. There was no denying the slaughter and torment on the other side of the barbed wire.…The people had ingested the lies…that these prisoners—Jews, Sinti, homosexuals opponents of the Reich—were not humans like themselves, and thus the townspeople swept the ash from their steps and carried on with their days. Mothers pulled their children inside when the wind kicked up, and hurried them along, to keep them from being covered in the ash of fellow human beings.

“This appalling reality led me to consider how ashes in our era continue to hold stories of suffering. These stories beg us to change our ways, to be honest about the missing pieces of love and human kindness meant to be rooted in our lives.

“Ashes are grimy, dirty, not easily washed off. Like ashes sticking to our foreheads, the grayness of suffering clings to ourselves and our society. The ashes show up everywhere. Crematoriums today are filled with the remains of thousands and thousands of loved ones who’ve died from Covid-19. The charred ruins from wildfires tell the suffering of humans, creatures, and nature. The ashes of small campfires in the woods warming homeless persons remind us of the millions of humanity without homes or the warmth of a welcome…

“I, too, think of the gray film of illusion and indifference that coats and adheres to the minds and hearts of a culture destroying itself by extreme individualism, beliefs of superiority over other humans, religious hypocrisy, destructive violence, absorption in self-adulation and consumerism. I ask myself about the ashes in my own heart as Lent approaches. How is it that I might be contributing to the suffering that exists? What will I do to ease this?”

Indeed. Where are the ashes, as light as powdery snowflakes in the air, dropping inconveniently into our lives, where we are quick to broom them aside. To act as if the consequences of cruelty and brutality don’t flick into eyelids of our lives.

Our Catholic Ash Wednesday reminds us that we are mortal, that our lives are limited, that indeed we shall die. With that reminder, the Church beckons us to ask, How then shall we live?

The three practices from Ash Wednesday’s Gospel (prayer, fasting, and giving to the poor) are our response. Read (and practice) Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18.

This year, we may not smudge your forehead with palm-ash, but where in your existence are you seeing the ashes falling? What are they inconveniently making dirty? And how will you make this Lent a time to bring life?

Here are a number of devotional and study resources for Lent which begins on Wednesday, February 17th.

From our Care for Our Common Ministry: “We Catholics share a strong tradition of embracing Lent with prayer, repentance, self-denial, and generous action. This year our Common Home ministry encourages us to use the Laudate Si “lens” the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ for our Lenten practice. Each week, this message will include one practical suggestion for action.

This week, our Lenten practice focuses on personal commitment. Consider taking care of yourself and the Earth at the same time by taking a walk with a bag in hand (preferably re-usable) and pick up litter along the way.”

Who will be our next Black American saint? How about Pierre Touissant? You should know about him.

Save this Time and Date: 7pm, Saturday, March 6th. On Zoom (of course), a live Address by Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, winner of the 2019 (yes), Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice.  Register for the event here.

Paulist Fathers’ News:

  • You should have received your Paulist Fathers’ Annual Appeal Brochures in the mail this past week. They were delayed. I have some at 5 Park Street if you would like me to send you one.
  • Exploring the Possibility of becoming a Paulist Father? Fr. Dat Tran invites you to the next Virtual Paulist Come and See on Saturday, Feb. 20th from 1-4pm.
  • A retreat, Crisis Spirituality: St Paul of the Shipwreck, Pray for us.: Go to this link to learn more about a national Paulist Fathers Retreat, led by Frs. Frank Desiderio, Terry Ryan, and Mark-David Janus. Saturday, February 27th, 1-3pm, by Zoom. Registration Fee: $25.

Worshiping In-Person at the Paulist Center Chapel
(imperative if you will be worshiping with us)…

How to reserve a place?

Please call the Center (617.742.4460) Wednesday through Friday during business hours (10am-5pm). Sal, our receptionist, will take your name and contact information (either email or phone number. We need this information so that we can contact you should we become aware, after the liturgy, of a person with Covid who attended your Mass).

Note Carefully: If you are experiencing ANY symptom that would indicate that you are ill (not just for Covid), please stay home. If in doubt, please stay out! Also, please read carefully the Procedures and watch the video (both links below). Of special note:

  • The doors open 10 minutes before the service;
  • Since there is no singing, we invite you to hum along with the songs.


1) Here are the expectations and requirements

2) A wonderful YouTube Video Link

If you can assist as a Minister of Hospitality with welcoming, seating, and directing people into and out of the Chapel, we would love to hear from you! If you are not in a vulnerable group with regard to COVID-19 and are willing and able to assist in this very important ministry, please contact Peter Ghiloni at

1) For the 6th Week of Ordinary Time, Sunday, February 14th, Live-Streamed Liturgy/Mass from the Chapel, at 10am (available as recording at same link after 11:15am):
Here’s the YouTube Link:

2) Paulist Center Families’ Fourth Sunday Liturgy of the Word, 10am, Sunday:
See Fr. Mike’s Email Missive for the link details.

3) Paulist Center Rosary Circle. 7:30pm every Monday.
Here’s the Zoom Link:
Meeting ID: 487 503 158; Passcode: 021078

4) All are welcome to a half-hour prayer gathering with/from the Paulist Center’s LGBTQ+ led prayer next Wednesday, 7pm. See Fr. Michael’s email missive for the url.

Ways of Giving:

Our “Community Gift” is the Paulist Center’s tradition of giving away 5% of our weekend offerings, averaged out over the whole year, to a group outside of ourselves. This week, we lift up the Maryknoll Lay Missionaries, an organization that works with poor communities in Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Thank you so much for your generosity!

We are so very grateful for your support during this time of uncertainly and financial peril. Here are two ways to give:

  1. To make a one-time or recurring donation using your bank account or credit card, click on the following link:
    Giving by text: Text 844-899-7511 with the amount you would like to donate (whole dollars only). Donations collected this way will be designated as part of the “Weekend Offering.”
  2. Giving by text: Text a whole dollar donation amount to 844-899-7511; this will be designated as your “Weekend Offering.”

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

I conclude now with the Prophet Micah 6:8:

Our Faithful God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?

And let us pray for/with one another.
Michael McGarry, C.S.P.
Director, the Paulist Center

Along with Patty, Chuck, Susan, Peter, Dorothy, John, Barbara, Rob, Alvaro, and Sal. Please feel free to call upon your Pastoral Ministers if you wish.

I will be sending out something every Thursday or Friday as the “shut down” continues.