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Ash marks start of Lent

Posted: February 25, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 25, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Bethany Steele, 12, of Castaic, left, receives a cross of ash on her forehead from Pastor Matt Stemme, right.

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Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent as many Santa Clarita Valley residents attended Ash Wednesday services held around the community.

Traditionally, Ash Wednesday services mark the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period preceding Easter. At services across the valley, attendees received the sign of the cross in ashes on their foreheads.

“Historically, (Ash Wednesday) was a time to come before the Lord in repentance,” said Pastor David White of NorthPark Community Church in Valencia. “But there’s not just one way to experience and celebrate Ash Wednesday.”

During the service, the ashes are used as a sign of repentance and the cross is used as a sign of redemption. The Rev. Michael Slattery of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Parish said people should focus not on the external cross but on the internal symbol of the cross. He urges people to do this by fasting, abstinence, penance or good deeds.

“We are invited to unite our sufferings with the sufferings of Jesus,” Slattery said. “We can interiorly renovate and renew ourselves thorough theses practices to have the same heart and spirit of Christ.”

Many people will observe the season of Lent by removing something from their diet such as caffeine, meat or sweets.

Some choose to fast while others take an entirely different approach. Instead of removing something from their daily lives they choose to add something such as meditation, daily devotions or volunteering.

“It helps people to get focused on the resurrection of Christ,” White said. “They get focused and quiet their hearts.”
Pastor Stan Fix of Friendly Valley Community Church looks at the season of Lent as a special spiritual journey of self-examination and trying to become more like Christ. This allows Lent to be a time to start fresh and help people to refocus their attention on Christ.

“I like to say, ‘Remember who and whose you are’ as the sign of the cross is made in ashes on a person’s forehead,” Fix said. “It is a solemn reminder of who we are and an invitation to see that God’s mercy renews us.”

Fix advises people to figure how they should observe Lent by asking themselves what they have been neglecting recently and move from there. He also emphasizes an approach that focuses on the spiritual rather than the physical acts of giving something up or fasting.

“Lent is the time to direct our attention to God, whose nature is love,” Fix said. “We can use the Lenten season as a time to make a U-turn and get back to doing some things that we know would be helpful for us in our growth and nurture.

“The idea is that this will continue on, not just last for 40 days.”

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