The Gospel passage used for Ash Wednesday in the Roman Catholic ordo every year is the famous passage from Matthew chapter 6. Jesus instructs his followers:
"...do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray...to be seen by others.”
And so, as we enter Lent, we very publicly have ashes placed on our foreheads. Can’t others “see us” when we do this?
I suppose it depends on the why, doesn’t it? Are we proud to have ashes on our foreheads? Perhaps, then, we should immediately wash them off. After all, the “ritual” has been performed, and now we can move on with our day.
Do we hope others will be impressed? Ditto.
Do we hope to inspire others to be mindful of this holy season? Well, that’s almost nice, but even so, there might be a hint of righteous judging going on.
Perhaps the Pauline reading, also included every year on Ash Wednesday, could help us out. “We are ambassadors for Christ,” we are told in 2nd Corinthians.
Might the ashes be a message primarily to ourselves? Do we dare proclaim our devotion to Christ if our lives, our actions do not make the same proclamation?
On this most “public display” day of our Christian faith, let us live so that all who encounter us encounter an ambassador for Christ, one who messages hope, reconciliation and peace in a world so desperately in need of these things.
Pat Conroy, S.J.
Office of Mission and Ministry