(Joel 2:12-18; II Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6.16-18)
Is it not ironic that we put ashes on our foreheads today when the gospel tells us to wash our face? But ashes are just a way for us to encourage one another to start the Lenten journey. It would be deceitful if we only practiced Lenten penitence for one day. It would be wrong as well to broadcast our self-imposed deprivations every day of Lent.
Ashes are not to be worn proudly but with humility. They remind us and tell others that we have sinned. That is, they indicate that we have followed our own will rather than obey God’s. The fact that they are spread in the shape of a cross is also significant. We will hear in Lenten gospels Jesus telling his disciples to take up their crosses and follow him. He means that we are to stop fleeing our responsibilities and complaining about them. Rather, we are to shoulder them dutifully as Jesus shouldered his. Wearing the cross of ashes indicates our intention to do so.
Forty days may seem like a long time to fast regularly, pray assiduously, and serve others significantly. However, the time seems to accelerate as days grow longer for us living in the Northern Hemisphere. Even more helpful, these burdens become light because we share them with Jesus, the Lord.