Today. It is the one day of the year that - just by looking at you - someone can immediately know that you are Catholic.
There is no other day of the year that your appearance will show the world that you are. In your day to day life, people can come to know that you are a Christian by your living out of the Gospel, your kind words, and the charitable way in which you live - but nothing about our appearance, even on our most important Catholic feast days, tells people about the faith we live.
I was flying to Las Vegas for their Diocesan Youth Conference on Saturday, and I got to sit next to a lovely couple traveling to Florida. We got to talking, and I shared with them about my ministry - how I speak and sing for the Catholic Church and Catholic young people.
People are often surprised about what I do, but this woman was utterly flabbergasted. She could not believe that there are young people who still adhere to their Catholic faith, much less any people at all still in the Catholic churches! She had her children baptized over 30 years ago, and their family has not practiced their faith since. I have met many surprised people, but no one has ever been completely shocked.
There are many people in the world like this woman - those people who think the churches must be empty because Catholic tradition is too archaic for our contemporary world. And today is that day where we get to proclaim to the world…the Catholic Church is not dead.
And not only is it not dead - we each get to proclaim by our ashes that there is a life beyond this worldly one. We get to show the world that we have been marked by our Savior, chosen as His own even in the midst of our sin and brokenness. We get to outwardly show that we are sinners in search of something more than this world is offering to us on every step of our earthly journey.
Ash Wednesday is a day that can feel a bit uncomfortable - people will look at you funny as you go about your day - some people will wash off their ashes in order to feel more comfortable out in public. With no ashes on your head, there’s no possibility of someone telling you about the dirt on your face. Years ago when I was a server at a restaurant, I went to Mass in the morning and wore my ashes to work. As usual, people would let me know about it, and it gave me the opportunity to tell them…
“Oh, thanks. It’s not dirt. I’m actually Catholic and it is Ash Wednesday.”
And so I challenge you...do not wash off your ashes today. Wear them proudly as a sign that you belong to the living God. Lent is a tremendous opportunity to walk with the Lord on His journey toward Calvary, and today is a tremendous opportunity for us as Catholics young and old to declare to the world…
Yes, we are still here. And no, after 2000 years, we are still not going anywhere.