If you see people with ashen stained foreheads today (because they never actually come out as crosses) complaining about how hungry they are, don’t feed them. They’re ok. It’s just Ash Wednesday.

Penn Catholics wait for Ash Wednesday all liturgical year. Newman Center doesn’t exactly have that name brand recognition Hillel boasts—we’re sort of like the Busch Gardens to their Disney World—and without glamorous wine fuelled Shabbat dinners, all we have to offer hungover college Catholics every Sunday is long homilies. So please, just give us this day. We’re finally cool.

The Ash Wednesday gospel is a famous one and states, “but whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” It’s a good idea, but to tell you the truth, it’s just not practical. It’s imperative we SnapStory our ashes with hashtags like #datash and Instagram hot pictures of ourselves eating our favorite foods in a tearful forty–day farewell.

This Mass is pretty sceney, by the way. The internationals don their Sunday best as the bitter regulars bemoan how the fairweather Catholics (those who haven’t seen stained glass since Christmas) are hogging all of the pews. 

But all’s well that ends well because as we wait in line to be anointed with warm, oily ash we know we’re all in it together, even the sort of crappy Catholics. We all share the trials and tribulations of Lent—the debating whether you’re actually allowed to break your offering on Sunday, or whether St. Patrick’s Day is a good enough excuse to resume binge drinking, or the dreaded ordering a Bobby’s burger on a Friday and then remembering it’s Friday. Do you eat it? Do you throw it out? Is that wasteful or a holy sacrifice?

The hard truth is that we’ll probably resume gossiping by Friday and our alcohol prohibition will dwindle from total sobriety to no hard liquor to no blacking out to well I didn’t get MERTed this entire time, what did you ever do?

But for this one Wednesday, our foreheads branded black, we agree to try to be a little bit better, kinder, stronger. We see each other at St. Agatha St. James or on Locust Walk and smile, remembering the days of Catholic school uniforms or Sunday Mass with our parents who we miss. Penn can be lonely and the sudden solidarity feels like home. 

One thing I can’t quite justify is our hungry whining so this is a call to all seasoned Yom Kippur fasting professionals: maybe when you see us, looking dirty and sad and a little proud, too, give us a smile, as well, a little “you can do it.” We can’t have Wawa coffee until Easter (or Monday when we forget) and we could really use your support.


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