If you've ever gone to Mass on Ash Wednesday, then you have probably caught the incongruity of the readings with our actions at Mass. Jesus tells us to wash our faces and not look glum in Matthew 6:17-18. And what do we do as soon as the homily is over? Smear a cross of ashes on our foreheads! Why the heck do we do that?
At Mass today my pastor shared a good explanation, but I had a squirrely three year old with me so I can only share the gist of what he said:
The ashes are an outward sign of my sinful ways. The ashes represent the parts of my soul that have been scourged due to sin and/or neglect. The ashes represent the areas that need the life-giving waters of Christ.
Whatever I give up or take up this Lent should help me to grow and to tend to the ash-like parts of my soul. For instance, I'm horrible, and I mean horrible, at fasting. I'm a great big baby when it comes to fasting - and the Church doesn't ask us to do it very much. I wind up being miserable just like the gloomy hypocrites that Jesus talk about (yikes!) For years I have flirted with trying to "improve" my fasting. Guess what? Flirting with fasting is not fasting. So, this year one of the things I'm going to focus on is fasting because I like food way too much; it is a crutch for me. Prayer should be my crutch.
If you're still trying to figure out what you're going to do for Lent, allow me to suggest Fr. Jonathan Morris' Lent Challenge 2013. He lays out a great plan that helps to think through the areas of mind, body, and soul. Because Lent isn't about denying ourselves for the sake of denying, it's about growing closer to our Lord and Savior.
I pray you have a good Lent. Remember, ashes are excellent fertilizer. I pray that on Easter morning you find grass growing in your soul where once there were ashes.