Matthew 6:16-18 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
When my daughter was young she once asked, “Mommy, if the bible tells us not to disfigure ourselves when fasting, why do we get marked with ashes?” I was hard-pressed to find a good enough answer for her, since I myself had the same question. It always seemed odd to me that on the day when we as marked as Christians with ashes, the reading for the day tells us to hide our fasting and sacrifice.
However, there’s more to it than that. To borrow a tagline from Nike, the bible is telling us to “Just Do It.” We needn’t go around boring others with tales of our sacrifice. If we do that to make people feel sorry for us, then that is our reward, and we’re done. But we are NOT done. The reason for our fasting and sacrifice is to honor our Father. We should do everything for the glory of God, not for the glory we may receive from others.
Today we celebrate Ash Wednesday. We are marked with ashes to call attention to the fact that God the Father created us from nothing, and our physical bodies will return to nothing. This serves to remind us that we are so much more than this. We remember that one day our bodies will return to the earth, but our souls will live in the glory of God.
This is also the beginning of the season of Lent, when we make a promise to “give up something.” We make sacrifices this season for Jesus, who sacrificed everything for us. But it doesn’t always have to be giving something up. Instead of going without chocolate for the next 40 days, (which by the way is a very noble sacrifice!) maybe you could make a promise to devote 30 minutes a day in prayer, or go to daily mass, or weekly stations of the cross. The possibilities are almost endless!
It is also the one day when we as Christians have a physical presence. Many of the other religions of the world have daily signs of their faith, such as yarmulkes, head scarves, and unshaven beards, but other than today, we don’t have that outward sign.
Therefore, wear your ashes today with pride!
What changes will you make this Lenten season? Please share your thoughts with us.
God bless you, Andrea