Since my first child was old enough to attend school, I took her to church to receive ashes before school. There were not many school aged children there in rural Illinois, but there were enough. I was taught that receiving ashes is an outward sign of our devotion to the Season of Lent that we truly mourn our sins, that we are really going to repent from doing them again, that we remember our baptismal vows, that we turn away from sin and turn toward the Gospels once again. It is also a heady reminder that some year we may not be there to receive ashes as we will one day be in the Heavenly Kingdom and our physical body has returned to ashes.
Yes, 1 of every 4 people are going to say “Hey, do you know you have a, um, a smudge on your forehead?” To each of them, I say, “Yes, I do, its Ash Wednesday. Thank you though.”
My husband is lucky enough to obtain permission every year from his corporation that he works for to attend Ash Wednesday Mass. Every year, he was approached by other Catholics that would say, “Oh man, I forgot! I’ll go after work.” Then Scott told them that all they had to do was obtain permission according to the rules and regulations of the company and they could go.
We have gone as a family to Mass on Ash Wednesday every year since my husband started with this corporation. This year, there were 6 other men from his work at our parish alone, to receive ashes before work. By one person doing it repeatedly, others became brave enough to do it as well.
Every year my children give me count of how many other children them they had dirt on their forehead, and that no one else did. My children would then tell me what they said in return. Sometimes it was as simple as “It’s Ash Wednesday and I am Catholic.” At lunch time deeper explanation would be asked from the children around them and my own children would explain as much as they had time to. At least there was interest sparked by other children, who may someday investigate it further on their own. One person can make a difference.
My eldest child, who will be 17 this year, is the most verbal defender of her religion.
Like the others, she would keep tally of children that asked and of adults that asked if she knew she had dirt on her head. She would explain patiently every year to those that wanted to know more. Last year, she entered high school and another Catholic approached her and asked “Why don’t you just go at night so no one sees it? It’s what we do.” My daughter did not take kindly to this suggestion and bristled. Her reply was “Why? So you can go home and have it rubbed off by the pillow case? You know it is supposed to wear off, not be washed off or removed in any other manner? Are you ashamed of being Catholic? I’m not. I am proud to be Catholic and I really don’t care what others think. I have the right to be whatever religion I choose and the freedom to express it. This is one of the obligation days, not a day of shame when we eat fish, get ashes on our heads and hide so no one else knows.” The other girl had been shocked and had nothing further to say or probably couldn’t think of a reply.
One person can make a difference.
Are you that one person? Or are you the one that goes at night so that no one knows and allows that pillow to wipe away the ashes? Do you bother to follow the dietary rules set up or do you just ignore them. Fasting, prayer and being repentant for your sins as the opening day of Ash Wednesday. It is the beginning of the Lenten Season, for all Christian religions. I ask you to stop turning your back on Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Season. My reasoning? I worry it will be held against you when your day of judgment comes.
With anything, it takes time to change the general populous’ outlook. But with my family of 5, plus you, that makes 6. With the 6 other men that came from my husband’s company, that now makes 12, when there were only 5 before. That’s progress. Good progress as the number had doubled in one year.
If you were brave enough to get ashes in the morning and face the world, I applaude you. If you and your family went together, you get a standing ovation from our family to yours. Honestly.
Since you were that brave to face the world with a ‘smudge of dirt’ on your forehead but know others who are not; invite them along with you next year or print this off and leave it anonymously leave it for them to find later. You could be making a difference by adding one more to those others unashamed and unafraid to show their Catholicity in public.
© Lori Callaway