Lenten Devotional - Ash Wednesday

February 14, 2018

I’ll never forget an exchange I had in my catechism class with a Bronx teenager on Ash Wednesday 1995. It went something like this:

“Yo, Brother Pat (that’s what the students called me back then), why do we put these ashes on our foreheads? They make me look dirty!”

I agreed and responded accordingly:

“Well, they’re supposed to make us look dirty because that is what our bodies will all become one day: dirt!”
My student’s question about this annual ritual was both fair and correct. The ashes do make us look a bit untidy and dirty. I offer as proof of that assessment the numerous times I’ve had complete strangers approach me on Ash Wednesday, tissues in hand, and sheepishly remark out of the side of their mouths that I have some dirt on my face and that I might want to wipe it off!

By marking our foreheads with an ashen cross we remember two important aspects of our Christian faith. First, the ashes themselves remind us that we are mortal and that we will die (remember man, remember woman, that you are dust and to dust you shall return). Ashes signify death, but when they are placed on our bodies for all to see, they tell the world that we who carry that “dirty little mark” on our foreheads realize that we are mortal and in need of a savior. Second, the ashes taking the form of a cross is significant because it reminds us that Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection covers our mortality and brings us to eternal life. The ashes are a mark of repentance, a sign of hope for the future, and a signal of our community’s renewed awakening to a deeper spiritual reality and a closer communion with God.

Rev. Patrick D. Rogers, S.J.
Executive Director of The Jesuit Center

View Daily Scripture Reading

Good and gracious God, may your provident care lead me to a more profound relationship with your Son and a powerful awakening of my senses to your Holy Spirit animating my life.
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