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Ash Wednesday marks first day of lent
St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church’s faith formation director Gerard Scheuermann, in foreground, and church pastor Father Patrick Walker, impose ashes on the foreheads of the faithful who came to the packed noon service on Ash Wednesday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

The faithful came in droves to the five Ash Wednesday masses and services at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Manteca.

The day which marks the first day of lent always brings large crowds to church for the traditional imposition of ashes on the faithfuls’ foreheads. But at the noon Scripture Service, Father Patrick Walker, noted that Wednesday’s attendance was the largest he has ever seen for a noon service in the years he was pastor of St. Anthony’s.

Many of those who filled the church were multi-generational families – grandparents with their children and grandchildren like the Mendieta family. A good number of parishioners had to stand in the back and along the sides of the church, as well as in the vestibule area for the luncheon hour service.

During his brief homily after the scripture readings, Father Walker explained the reason for the traditional practice of giving up something – one’s favorite food like chocolate, for instance – during the Lenten season. It’s the same reason behind the observance of fasting and abstinence (no meat) on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays throughout the 40 days of lent – to “put God first above chocolate, above everything,” he said.

“Put aside extra food and say, ‘no, Lord, I’m going to choose you. I’m going to choose you above all things.’ Even better, do charitable work,” he said, perhaps helping a neighbor during the lent season and then continue doing that practice even after lent.

Doing charitable deeds “over and above the normal things we do – that’s the gift of lent,” Father Walker said.

For as Jesus said, “whatever you do for the least of my people you do unto me,” the pastor reminded the faithful.

We show our love for Jesus “by our example, by our love” when we do something good to others, he said. “When we love Jesus, we see Christ in others and we respond in love.”

During the 40-day Lenten journey, let us “choose Christ above everything in our life and live for him,” he concluded his homily.

As of Wednesday, members of the extended Mendieta family have not finalized any list of things that they are giving up for lent. But grandmother Irene Mendieta who came to the noon Ash Wednesday service with daughter Jennifer and three grandchildren in tow, two of them in a stroller, said she is going to “give more time for family.” And since she enjoys drinking soda, she may give that up for lent, she said.

Daughter Jennifer, who just graduated from Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo, said giving up something for lent will be a family affair.
“It’s easier if you do it as a family to support each other,” she said.

They have also planned to set aside 20 minutes a day – 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes around dinner time – to “talk to each other about what matters most, what we are thankful for,” Jennifer said.

In the Catholic faith, fasting is required for those from age 18 through 60. They also have to abstain from meat all Fridays of lent. Abstinence applies to all Catholics who are 14 years of age and older. The observance of lent will continue through the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.