Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Ashes to Ashes

My blog feeder app is exploding today. It seems the thing to do on Ash Wednesday is to blog about Ash Wednesday. So, always striving to emulate those holy bloggers whose writings I read, I thought I'd better do the same. Two thoughts for today:

One, I've heard too many Ash Wednesday homilies about "Isn't it funny/strange/ironic* that on the day we wear this public sign of our penance, we read Jesus telling us not to?" No, it's not funny/strange/ironic, it's reading the Scriptures shallowly. What Jesus is condemning in terms of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving in today's gospel is the prideful attitude of the hypocrites: "Look at me, I pray because I'm holy, I fast because I'm holy, I give alms because I'm holy." There was no element of penance in their actions. On the other hand we receive ashes not because we are holy, but because we are sinners, and we are proclaiming to God and the world that very fact. Public proclamation of our true sinfulness is way different than public proclamation of our pretend righteousness. But  if we are to take some value from Jesus's instructions to pray, fast, and give alms in secret, I wonder if we should be always asking each other what we are giving up for Lent. Granted, sometimes the question stems from a good place, like a search for guidance in what my own Lenten discipline should be. But often it's just an opening line so I can tell you about what I'm doing for Lent. Jesus kind of really said not to do that. Another clergy blogger got me thinking along these lines.

Two, in the two Masses I'm offering today I'm using the older form for the imposition of ashes. Rather than saying, "Repent, and believe in the Gospel," I'm saying, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (valid and still in the Missal). While both address the reality of sin, the former does so a little more indirectly by calling us away from it. The latter recalls the dust out of which we were made in the beginning and to which we are daily moving towards, due to our sins. I like the older form. The latter directly quotes the end of Genesis 3:19, where God is laying out the consequences for our sin. "You are dirt, and to dirt you shall return." So this older form for the imposition of ashes takes our attention all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the original sin that caused us to need a Lent at all.

*Ironic: An overused and abused word. No, Alanis Morrissette, the crashing plane or delayed death row pardon isn't ironic, it's just sad.

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