The Lenten season begins today - Ash Wednesday. While you may know why we receive ashes – as a sign of our penitence and humility before God – have you ever wondered why we receive them on our foreheads? Why would something meant, in part, to remind you of your mortality and sinfulness be placed in a spot you can’t see?
The ashes are not in a place we can easily see (without a mirror), but they are somewhere that the rest of the world can clearly see. When you talk to someone, or even walk by them, you look them in the eye. You look at their face. And on your face today, for everyone that sees you to see on you, are the ashes. They are an outward symbol, a way to declare your faith to the world. Those who see you, friend and foe alike, will know what you believe today.
It takes bravery, sometimes, to stand fast and say, “Yes, I am Catholic.” It takes more, still, to admit publicly that you are a sinner. The ashes do that as well; they are not only a public, outward symbol of our faith in Christ but of why we need that faith in Christ – that we are mortal, fallen, and sinful.
Wear them with humility and love today. You must die to conquer death, so you must die to sin to conquer sin. By taking our sins public, we can die to them before everyone, as Jesus died for them before everyone on the cross. Wear them, too, with hope, because after the death on the cross came resurrection, and after death to sin comes resurrection into grace.