Joe Biden with ashes on his forehead. The image seems shocking to many Catholics. Disturbing. Many worry about the message it sends to Catholics that you can be a pro-abortion rights and same-sex marriage supporting and still a public Catholic in good standing.
And there’s something to it, especially nowadays when the message about the sacredness of life is so obfuscated. But I also must acknowledge that I too am a sinner with ashes. I bet there’s probably some people who know me who see me with ashes and scoff.
One of the ways Catholics refer to themselves is “practicing” Catholics. I’m always a little wary of those who describe themselves as “devout.” I think you should probably let other people use that word about you. I prefer to call myself a “struggling Catholic.” It’s not that I’m struggling with the Church so much as I’m struggling with living up to the Church’s teachings.
There’s something about Ash Wednesday that brings people back to Church. So many people who go to Church on Christmas and Easter go to Mass to receive ashes. I honestly don’t know why. But maybe it’s simply seeing others with ashes. Maybe it’s seeing an outward sign of faith that reminds them of who they are, who they want to be. It calls them to look up from their lives and reminds them that this life does not go on forever and to consider bigger things.
I spoke with a woman last night who saw my kids and I out and about. She saw all of us with ashes and she struck up a conversation. She told me she was raised Catholic but her husband wasn’t Catholic so she converted to “general Christianity” as she called it. She thought it was important that the entire family be raised in the same faith and as her husband was immovable she converted. But she said, now that the children are getting older she was thinking about returning to the Catholic Church. “In my heart I’m still a Catholic,” she said.
There is something about ashes. It reminds people to look up from their lives and consider who they are and who they want to be. It reminds them that this does not go on forever. It reminds them that “Man is dust, and unto dust you shall return.” But by receiving ashes you don’t only remind yourself, you may remind others.
So I don’t scoff at sinners with ashes anymore. I am one. And maybe God can make some good come from a terrible sinner like me.