By BERNADETTE HAN
Today, I have shit on my face.
Well, ash, if we want to be specific and I’m not the only one.
Today is Ash Wednesday, a feast day in the Catholic Church – and most other Christian churches – to celebrate the start of Lent. It’s a day on which Catholics gather in a liturgy to receive a small cross of ash on their forehead.
In theory, also bearing a sizeable portion of shit on their face today, are 5.7 million Australians, and 1 billion people worldwide.
Realistically, you won’t be able to see all of these people with shit on their face out and about today. Most won’t celebrate Ash Wednesday. Of those recognising the feast day, only a few will celebrate by visiting a church. Most (85% in Australia) haven’t been regularly going to church for a while. Of those who do decide to visit a church today, many will rub off their cross as soon as they leave.
The ashes are made from the palms from last year’s Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) celebrations. They are an ancient symbol of loss and repentance, but also new beginnings.
Loss. Repentance. New Beginnings. They are a symbol of the Catholic Church right now.
I am an Australian Catholic with shit on my face.
And I want a Pope who sees this.
I want a Pope who knows that thousands of kids across the world (myself many years ago included) have spent years acting as altar servers with our friends, and that we had a genuinely good time.
A Pope who recognises and celebrates the fact that there are plenty of really kind, dedicated, community-minded priests.
But I also want a Pope who understands that, just because he, and I, and my family, and my friends, and my community, have all had really positive experiences with the Catholic Church, it doesn’t mean that everyone has.
Because I know that I feel like celebrating these good things without anyone taking meaningful steps to stop the bad things sends the message that, because what allegedly happened didn’t happen to a majority, didn’t happen in my local church and didn’t happen to me, it is okay. And it is not okay.
Recent months have seen practicing Catholics in Australia and across the world presented with a choice; we can ignore the issue or we can engage with it. Engagement is embarrassing, distressing and uncomfortable for all parties involved, but it has to be done. Because what happened might have been in the past, but it was in OUR past.
The smudge on my forehead today isn’t a bruise, or a bit of charcoal (which are both things I have lied about my ashes being in previous years.) It is shit. Shameful, uncomfortable, remorseful shit.
We Catholics have shit on our faces. Not just today, but everyday. And the sooner we get a Pope who will recognise this, the sooner we can work this shit out.
The author of this post has chosen to remain anonymous; Bernadette Han is a pseudonym.
Are you Catholic? How do you feel about the Pope resigning?