Yes, I know. There is a mark on my forehead.” Is what I reply to the question I get every year. However, what I am thinking perhaps sardonically is “Thanks for recognizing the billboard which points to our own physical death, as if it were just a Christian thing. We are all food for worms unless we follow Christ.” Saying the latter often leads to awkward smiles, pejorative under the breath comments or just a change of conversation with a 50% chance of disdain.
So I have resolved to be patient.
To fellow Catholics and Christians, the ashes are a powerful reminder. Simply, if one has them on his/her forehead, the dirt is clear to all! No discernment is really needed. There is a relationship between what is there with what is seen. Death is ever present – a message which has been very clear to Christians as of late. Yet for the faithful, it brings a message of hope: Death itself is dead – conquered by Christ. For the joyful person the reminder of death fast-forwards to the resurrection. Christ’s passion ends in Christ’s resurrection.
As far as evangelizing, the ashes are the best billboard, for they force those who do not know the Church to ask the obvious question. “What is that?” Easy in! “Well, from lifeless ashes we came…” If it is not a reminder of the love which overcame death, then it is a reminder of the universal nature of physical death itself – a chance to evangelize!
As far as those little devils who like to quote Matthew 6:5, calling those who bear the ashes hypocrites for “praying in public,” my internal literalist response is a sarcastic note to self, “yeah, ashes on my forehead are the gong show preceding my public almsgiving.” My physical response is a slight eye roll, masked by a soft chuckle and a quick raise of the eyebrows followed by no response at all. Clearly the “heckler” is banging intellectual cymbals of his/her own. The astute observation of both scripture and my forehead are the desired rewards.
As far as teaching one’s children, well I must to recollect (brag) anecdotally. My 11 month old baby got a face full of ashes this past Wednesday. He looked like a warrior, and he and the rest of my children were giggling about it. I assure you, my wife briefed them before Mass about the grave symbolism of the ashes. They were just happy to be with their parents. They were just happy to be with each other. They were just happy to be there – and I let them giggle with childlike joy in their father’s house.
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