At last night’s Ash Wednesday’s vigil Mass, we burned last year’s palm branches in a bonfire outside the church. We were enveloped in a cloud of smoke as they burned. When I sat in the church for the service after the fire, I smelled strongly of smoke.
I was taken back many years to the 1970’s when we and most of our friends heated our homes with wood. In the country, we burned old pallets that had been discarded by the pallet factory next door. Others used wood from trees on their property. The wood was free, so it was an economical way to heat our homes. I always loved going into the city to work smelling like a wood fire. At the time, many of my students also had a hint of wood smoke about them.
Last night was the first time in years that I had that scent permeating me and my clothing. But it connected me to something deep and warm. A time in my life when most of what we used or ate had come to us for free or for very little. Frugality was necessary since we usually had little money. But we didn’t feel impoverished because we were warm and fed.
The blessing at the service was “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Put in Franciscan friendly terms, “refocus your life and remember the Good News. ” Last night, surrounded by good people and the smell of smoke, I did just that.