Will you think me weird if I confess that Ash Wednesday is my favorite day of the year to be Catholic? I love the call to something higher, the reminder of something lower, and the olly-olly-oxen-free that forces us to publicly declare our faith to the world. Ash Wednesday “outs” all of us, even those most reluctant to talk about their faith. It’s right there for all the world to see, emblazoned on our foreheads. There are no chicken-Catholics today. We’re all loud and proud and showing our ashes.
There are strange looks and questions all day from people who just want to let us know that “we have a little something right there”. I appreciate the offer of help when people attempt to swipe at my forehead, even though I’ve perfected the Catholic backbend to avoid them. I’m like that guy on the Matrix…almost. It’s an opportunity to share my faith that’s not in-your-face; it’s on-my-face instead.
I like walking past mirrors on Ash Wednesday, and seeing the mark on my own face. It’s a reminder of a calling to something higher than just the world around me. It reminds me that I’m marked for Christ through my Baptism and called to holiness. I need that reminder, especially, it seems, this time of year. Sitting in here in the gray funk of not-yet-Spring-but-no-longer-Christmas, Ash Wednesday comes along when I most need the reminder that everything is temporary and I am created for Eternity. I like the Call-to-Holiness that my own image represents.I also like the reminder of my own mortality. I like being told that I’m going to someday die. In an odd way, I find it reassuring. It is comforting to me to know that I’m just dust. That’s it. Just dust. There is something nice about being dirt. I happen to like having my own bubble of self-importance burst gently every now and then, and Ash Wednesday is always a welcome dose of humility. It makes me feel a little better about my own shortcomings. I don’t have to be perfect. After all, I’m not God. I’m not even close to being God. I was created from the mud and the muck, and when I die the earthly part of me will go back to being mud and muck.
So, bring on the ashes, and the weird looks, and the back bending. For one day a year, let me be a visible testimony to the power and glory of Our Lord and His Church without having to utter a single word. I’m like the crazy guy on the street shouting “Repent! For the hour is at hand!” I like that guy; he has the courage to bravely face the world with a message it doesn’t want to hear. For today, we get to do that too. So go out there, wear your ashes with pride and humility, and be the crazy guy on the corner. It’s good for you
Photo credit: Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons - cc-by-sa-3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons