Westwood collaborative hosts 24 hours of ashes, confession, and adoration on Ash Wednesday

WESTWOOD -- When Henry Rusker gets the Sign of the Cross marked on his forehead each Ash Wednesday, he feels like he is on his way to becoming a different person.

The ashes don't transform his personality, he explained, but they allow him to grow in faith throughout Lent, and let him know that God is with him.

"With some people," he told The Pilot, "it can truly change them when they get their ashes on their forehead."

Rusker and dozens of others filled St. Denis Parish in Westwood on the morning of Feb. 14, Ash Wednesday, to receive their ashes and attend Mass celebrated by Bishop Peter Uglietto. In his remarks, Bishop Uglietto explained that the ashes symbolize "that we are Christians to the world."

When Catholics wear the ashes, Westwood Catholic Parishes Faith Formation Director Karlene Duffy told The Pilot, "people see us in a different way."

"It's the only time when we're asked to wear an outward sign of our faith," she said. "And I think in today's world it's an awesome thing, and sometimes a courageous thing, to do."

For the last four years, the Westwood Catholic collaborative has held 24 hours of ashes, confession, and adoration on Ash Wednesday at St. Margaret Mary Parish. Two of three Ash Wednesday Masses are celebrated at St. Margaret Mary, the other at St. Denis. Twenty-four volunteers staff St. Margaret Mary throughout the day, with two working in two-hour shifts.

"We've been very blessed to have volunteers regularly come forward to do that," Duffy said.

The 24 hours of ashes, confession, and adoration began when Duffy and Father Paul Soper, pastor of the Westwood Catholic parishes, "wanted to make it convenient for people" to get ashes. If ashes were available for 24 hours, Duffy explained, it only made sense to have confession and adoration available as well.

"It's a time to examine and be mindful of Jesus," Duffy said about Lent, "praying and fasting for 40 days, and wanting to be like him and prepared for his resurrection."

Duffy said she has spent a lot of time thinking about her plans for Lent.

"It's not about what I'm going to give up," she said. "I'm going to spend more time in quiet prayer, more time in silence."

Westwood Catholic pastoral associate Mary Campion said that receiving ashes doesn't change a person but serves "as a reminder to repent and grow closer to Christ."

"It's a time to reflect on the two greatest commandments, love God and love neighbor," she said. "It's a time for spiritual renewal, for healing, and for reaching out to other people."

This Lent, Campion plans to fast and spend more time in prayer.

Rusker plans to pray the rosary every day and prioritize spending time with family over social media.

"That's what Christ would want," he said.