As someone who doesn’t like to draw attention to herself, stares and questions can make Ash Wednesday hard. It is the only day of the year (at least to my knowledge) where people can immediately identify you as Christian on sight. You don’t even have to do anything; it is right there, spelled out in black and white, on your forehead.
For the distribution of ashes, the priest has a couple choices, but one option is to remind the people of their call to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” Jesus asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and to visit the imprisoned (Mt 25:34-46). How can your Lenten sacrifice live out the gospel message?
When I was little, I would give up something that I loved for Jesus, like candy or, as in the case of one really difficult Lent, soda. Making any sacrifice, intending to show your love for God, is a great start, but I encourage you to take it one step further. If you decide to sacrifice your morning coffee, maybe money you would have spent at the coffee house could go to a local charity that provides winter coats for the homeless. If you’ve noticed that you being spending a little too much of your Saturday mornings watching television, this Lent might be a wonderful time to volunteer to stock shelves at your local food pantry or to serve meals at the soup kitchen. Maybe you could wake up an hour earlier to take a lonely, elderly neighbor to Mass.
This Lent is the perfect time to be a living witness to the gospel, but that witness should continue even after Easter. That does not mean that you should give up coffee for the rest of your life or that you should never spend another Saturday morning watching television, but it does mean that our desire to make sacrifices out of love for Jesus shouldn’t end just because Lent does. This Ash Wednesday, I encourage you to think about not just how you can live the gospel during the next forty days, but how can you make it a part of your daily life. Ash Wednesday should not be the only day where people can immediately tell that you are Christian; your actions should make it crystal clear all throughout the year. There is no greater compliment than for people to be able to tell that you belong to Christ.
Wear your ashes as a proud witness to your belief in Christ, answer any questions that come, and you just might inspire someone else to start his or her own faith journey.
Jennifer Beckmann is an Administrative Secretary for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
For more information, be sure to check out the Catholic Apostolate Center's Lenten Resource Page!