Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Question about Ashes

The Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday tells us  "Jesus said to his disciples: 'Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly father.  When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others.  Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be in secret.  And your father who sees in secret will repay you.'"  (Matthew 6:1-6)

All of the readings speak to not showing off our piety.  When we are fasting, we should not look like we are fasting, etc.

Then we are supposed to leave our ashes on all day.  It seems rather "showy" to me.  I do it.  And all day long at work, I get the "you have something on your forehead."  "Yes, I know, it is Ash Wednesday." "OH! sorry."  

It does, in one way, seem like a good way to witness to people that there are Christians among them.  On the other hand, if I am reading the Gospel right, it is showing off and shouldn't be done.  

So, my wise readers, what is the answer to this thing I have wondered about for so many years?


  1. Well, MC, I will offer you my thoughts, but they will most surely not be THE answer. No!

    I know everything about the way our faith traditions are carried out are not always "correct", per say, but I tend to err on the side of trusting my pastor. If the tradition is to give out and wear ashes as a sign of our fleeting time here on earth, then I don't think twice about doing it. My experience is that the witness aspect of it has been positive. Blind obedience? Maybe. But there is great humility in obedience.

    The Bible verse does seem to be more about alms giving...Also, receiving ashes is not something we -have- to do, so if your conscience does bother you, you could omit them.

    But, like I said, when it comes to our traditions and practices, I am pretty much a sheep. Not that I don't think or read and study. But I benefit from obedience, being one who is full of pride, and lacking in trust. My pastor bears the burden of leading us; hopefully he is doing as good a job as I think he is. :)

  2. What a lovely surprise to find you!

    Mary in Africa

  3. Showing off refers more to the actors on a stage who pray loud and dramatically, calling attention to their form, rather than to the Lord.
    It is like the mini-van with Christian symbols bumper stickers galore; weaving in and out of traffic and breaking the rules of driving.
    Such pests. That said, let's go a different direction on The Ashes:

    In the movie “Titanic”, ONE lifeboat came back. The searchlight looks for life, but finds death all around.

    Rose awakens from chill to find Jack dead in the water, and finally unclenches his death grasp from her hand, swims to a nearby White Star employee with a whistle, grabs it, and tweets loudly, and repeatedly.

    She screams “Come back! Come back!”

    It is her only hope to be saved.
    Unless the ONE boat returns to her, she will perish.

    The Ashes of Wednesday on the forehead of the body, are a silent scream of the soul, to the ONE with a lifeboat:
    “Come back! Come back!”
    “Save me!”
    The body that carries you and your soul will soon sink.

    The eventuality of all bodies is recalled with the utterance,
    “Remember man that thou art dust, and unto dust thou shall return”.
    Anyone who has been to a funeral home knows this, and we can see it visibly. So we believe.

    But the invisible is also present.
    Every soul has a destination.
    The only variance of thought among the living is where that destination is located. What we can NOT see, the invisible, is harder to believe, and creates confusion.

    The choice to put ash on the forehead indicates belief that HE who saves, will come back for you, because the invisible soul has made a choice on destiny eternally.

    That black mark of Ash Wednesday silently echoes to the Light of the World forever…”Come back!”.

    He will.

    That said, I find it fascinating that the Cross of the Ashes is placed precisely on the forehead, where one day, the oil of final anointing....NOT ashes...will also be placed by a holy hand.
    In days of yore, this sacrament was called Extreme Unction. Ashes are biblical extreme unction, as many wore sackcloth of ashes, and lamented sin or death for days in such outer wear.

    I pray your search, leads you to your answer.
    And the answer to any question, at it's root, is Jesus Christ.

    Let your soul do the talking on Ash Wednesday.
    There is no public boasting by a soul.

  4. I think it's based on your intent. If you are displaying them in a prideful way then that would be wrong to display them.

  5. If one gets ashes, as someone people do, solely to get ashes, and then never step foot in church again until next Ash Wednesday and don't give a second thought to God, then I would say it's showing off. I would not lose any sleep over this. I take a lot of grief for getting ashes because I work in an OR, where dirt of any kind, blessed or not, is abhorred, so I guess I have a different take on this subject. I find my inability to keep the fast while at work without making mention of it is a much bigger occasion for pride than wearing a cross-shaped smudge.

  6. In a world where people are embarressed to show their religosity, I welcome showing off the ashes. It goes back to what you said a while back, Mary-C, "I'm religious, not spiritual."

    Joyce - couldn't you receive ashes after work? I don't think it really matters when one gets them.

  7. Thanks everyone. I guess maybe I have overthought this.

  8. I think it was a great discussion!

  9. Manny, I go to Mass in the morning before work. Luckily, our schedule was very light today and there was no reason for me to go back into the OR suites, so it was not a problem. And then one of the nearby parishes administered ashes to the employees after lunch and it was nice to see how many of my staff took part.