“Hey Padre, gimme some of them ashes”

It was Ash Wednesday and it also happened to be my sexton’s birthday.  So after the noonday service he and I walked two blocks down to my favorite local lunch spot, The Henry James Saloon.  Needless to say, I was still in my full clerical garb complete with a big smudge of ash on my own forehead from the service.  So we are sitting there me with my Yuengling Lager (a Philadelphia staple) and him with his Bud (may God forgive him).  Across from us are four women, obviously there on their lunch break as well.  Anyway, there we are, chatting and suddenly one of the women calls out, “Hey Padre… Padre.”  Needless to say I quickly knew she was talking to me (When one is wearing clerics it doesn’t take long to realize that you attract a lot more attention from strangers than if you were in civilian dress).  So I asked how I could be of service.  Her response was classic Philly, “Gimme some of them ashes.”  She explained that by the time she got home from work and picked up her son, took care of supper and homework, she would not have time to get the 7 o’clock service at her home church.  I apologized and told her that sadly, I did not bring my container of ashes (in this case a small metal box) with me so I could not oblige.  Yet she was not to be deterred… she thought for a moment and then pointed and said, “Well gimme some of your ashes then.”  Bold as brass she was and it knocked me for a loop.  I must have looked as confused as I felt because she felt that it was necessary not only to repeat herself, but to point straight at my forehead.  At last I understood, though I was still not exactly sure how I felt about the whole enterprise but I could see no reason to deny her request.  I stood and went over to her and asked her name.  I then licked my thumb, put it to my forehead and with the residue, made the sign of the cross on hers while saying, “Margie, remember that you are dust and to dust to shall return.”  Although the whole enterprise was a bit half-assed in my opinion it was clearly valid enough in hers.  It must have been because two of her three friends asked me to do the same.   Just goes to show that people are always looking for the sacred, even, or perhaps especially, in the alehouse.

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5 thoughts on ““Hey Padre, gimme some of them ashes”

  1. I was struck this Ash Wednesday by the response several priests received when they stood at the commuter train station and gave out ashes. They attracted a steady line of people who never questioned which denomination was doing this. Sometime penance is wanted and needed.

  2. I had a student at Temple a few years back tell me I had smudge on my face and proceed to lick her thumb and wipe it off before I could realize what was happening… you never know what to expect!

  3. Reblogged this on So This Priest Walks Into a Bar… and commented:

    As I think about Ash Wednesday and take a break from smudging hundreds of foreheads, my trip to the Henry James that day still stands as one of the great spiritual encounters of my priestly life.
    Thanks for your patience. I’ll be back with a new post next week.

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