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Ashes to ashes

When I was still a wee little Catholic (which, admittedly, was in my early 20s) I used to get a bit of enjoyment at being the only one I knew who wore ashes from Ash Wednesday all day – everyone else I knew that even still went to Church would wipe them off before showing up in public.  Maybe it’s me being overly critical as I look back, but I think I actually tried to get seen wearing them a little, as if seeing someone being publicly Catholic was going to, I don’t know, shame or guilt people into coming back to the Church.  Yeah, I was a real piece of work back then (and yes I know I still am in many, many ways).

ash wednesdayTimes have changed, and I’ve grown older and maybe a little wiser, but also now have a lot more people to whom I’m responsible.  Back then I didn’t have to worry about someone seeing me be a Catholic, getting offended and finding a reason to “stick it to me”.  Now, it seems, that concern is ever-present, both because it can do so very much more damage to me and because people have such little taste for true religious tolerance.  For whatever reason, those included, this morning I just kept getting the overwhelming desire to wipe off the ashes before I headed in to work – work, mind you, with a staff meeting and another meeting with folks with whom I have not worked before.

I think God knew what was running through my head that morning, because the priest started his homily off in very short order with, “leave them on – don’t wash them off – leave them on all day, as an example to others that you are a sinner.”  With that last part he got me.  Instead of wearing them to make others know what they should be doing, wear them because of who you are, in admission that you are a sinner.  No matter how many times I come to realize it I’m always struck anew by the realization that conversion most often comes by being genuine and honest, not by a holiness that might be only paper thin.  When people know that we are right there in the trenches with them and not hanging out on some ivory tower watching over the world and shaking our heads at them, when they know that we know we’re no better – then when they see us joyful despite it all, when they see us get up and try just one more time, then they will think that not only is what you have something they want, but indeed something they just might be able to have as well.

May we all have a holy Lent, and may we all find joy in knowing that it’s not us that has to do the hard work.  Trust in God, and let Him do all the heavy lifting.  And keep those ashes on each Ash Wednesday that others might see that yes, you are a sinner, but there is more to life than just that.

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