My seventeenth Lent!
I know I write a version of this same post every year, but you can forgive me or just ignore it. It's just that Ash Wednesday strikes me as one of the most deep and clever rituals we Catholics do each year.
Why would we line up to have someone put dirt on our head--in the form of the traced cross we first received as catechumens no less--right after listening to the gospel in which Jesus commands us to wash our face when we are fasting?
Receiving the ashes is a deeply ironic, public and stark admission of our sinfulness. We hear the Gospel and then do the opposite of what it says, just like we do all the time when we take God lightly and sin. Today we make a ritual out of this tragedy of our lives. That's why everyone comes to church today, because the ritual itself touches the hard truth that we all know: we have not lived up to the promises that we made (or that were made on our behalf) at our baptism.
The power of this public confession of hypocrisy and sin is the first step of our journey to the renewal of those vows at Easter.