Friends, I promise you that this blog will not post exclusively about religion, but it is Ash Wednesday so bear with me for another day.
You know what the most obvious thing about Ash Wednesday is, right? It is the one day every year that Catholics (like myself) can be easily identified because of the black ashes on their foreheads plain as the nose on your face.
Hopefully, we are all being great Witnesses (in the pre-LeBron sense) and you can tell we joyfully live our faith every day. But being realistic, today it is really easy to point out the Catholics. They will know we are Catholics by our smudge.
Another well-known practice is that Catholics are required to fast on Ash Wednesday. It is a pretty moderate fast, in the spectrum of fasting. It basically boils down to “Eat Sensibly”. But still, we throw a big bit of dirt on our face when we fast today.
Here is the kicker; the Gospel reading every year is the same – Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 which contains:
And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face; 18 that you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father who is in secret: and your Father who sees in secret, will repay you.
I’ve asked a couple priests and I’ve heard more than 30 homilies, yet I still can’t wrap my mind around why we do this. I admire our Church for giving us this opportunity to challenge ourselves every year, but it still strikes me as odd. If you’ve heard or read a really great explanation of this particular theological puzzle, let me know.
(And not to be uncharitable to my separated brethren, please don’t use this opportunity to try and convert me, thanks!)