"Wear your ashes humbly, not proudly." That is the main point of an article that my friend sent to me.
Ash Wednesday has always been interesting to me. It is not a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, and yet there have been times that we couldn't even step into the church because it was so crowded with Catholics waiting to receive their mark. It is peculiar to me. What makes people want the ashes? Is it to feel a part of something bigger than themselves? Is it an act of reverence that some people just know they cannot miss? Is it a desire to let the world know of their religious connection? Is it a time and way for people to start over, a clean slate? I think for me, at different times it has been all of these things.
Most recently, it has seemed like a contradiction to the Gospel reading that says, "when you pray, go into a closet, when you fast, tidy yourself so that the world doesn't know; surely your Father in Heaven knows." So, why then do we do something so bold, so visible to the world?
My friend's article reminded me that we wear ashes as a sign that we are sinners. They aren't like a Girl Scout badge we've earned that says, "Look at me, I am Catholic, I'm not eating meat today! Aren't I holy?" Neither do I think they are to be a way to square off with someone, "You better believe I'm Catholic, you want to make something of it?"
Instead, they are a reminder to us that "from ashes we come and to ashes we shall return." That little smudge on our head should remind us of the smudges on our souls. Without the grace of God, we are no more than dirt, an evolution of cells. But God has called us out of our sinfulness, God breathed a soul into us, God uses us and molds us and doesn't give up on us, even though we are poor sinners. He has called us His children, thus giving us His inheritance. Jesus, our Brother, opened the gates of Heaven by dying and rising again. It is on Ash Wednesday, that we humbly come before our King and admit to Him and the world, that we don't deserve what we have been given, but we are eternally grateful.