SummaryToday’s ashen cross upon your forehead does not signify the condemnation of God—it signals His forgiveness. John Clark adds that It signifies eternal life.
“One day, I will rise from these ashes.”
When someone asks you why you are wearing ashes today, consider making this your response.
I’ve often wondered what non-Catholics think about us Catholics on Ash Wednesday, as they see us marked with the sign of the cross. Perhaps they wonder why we would choose to be marked with what looks to them like a sign of defeat. Why would we want to be reminded of Jesus’ death on the Cross?
Even most of our non-Christian friends are pretty familiar with the basic story of Christianity. On Good Friday, Christianity appeared to be devastated and decimated; most of the Apostles, the first soldiers of Christianity, were AWOL. Jesus was crucified, died, and was buried.
Savior lost. Battle lost. War lost.
That much they know. Or so they think.
In reality, the events of Good Friday mark the most profound ironies the world will ever know: Jesus died that we may live. Just as all seemed lost, everything was found. It was the gates of Heaven—not the gates of Hell—that prevailed. It was life—not death—that prevailed. As the Eastern Church puts it: “By death He conquered death, and to those in the tombs, He granted life.”
Ash Wednesday is a preparation for the next Good Friday and a reminder of the first Good Friday.
Yes, today’s ashes are a recognition that even those who love God will die. But the cross is a reminder that those who love God will rise from those ashes. Because that penitential ashen cross upon your forehead does not signify the condemnation of God—it signals His forgiveness.
And because of that forgiveness, those who die in the state of grace on Earth will live forever in the state of grace in Heaven. Death’s momentary triumph is eclipsed by the eternal victory of God.
As the First Letter to the Corinthians put it so beautifully: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
To our non-Christian friends, perhaps we can explain that the ashen cross on our foreheads are not an admission of defeat, but a profession of victory over death. The cross did not mark the end of our story. In truth, there is no end to our story because Christ has conquered death.
But not only does today physically mark our victory over death, it is also a profession of victory in life.
As Catholics, every day, we make the sign of the cross. Today, we are privileged to wear the sign of the cross.
Ashes are our proclamation to the world that we are children of God; they express our deepest desire that Jesus claims us as His own. In a world that “knew Him not,” we proudly profess to that world that we do know Him.
And we do love Him.
Humility dictates our recognition that this is quite a claim. We might call it the audacity of Faith.
We are not worthy to stand in His Presence, yet Jesus comes to us in the Real Presence of the Eucharist.
We are not worthy of the love of God, yet “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.”
We are not worthy of the forgiveness of God, yet He wills to forgive the repentant heart.
He wills to grant us life eternal. Today is a reminder of that.
Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. That is our lot in life. That is our lot in death. But that’s not the end of the story.
It’s only the beginning.
We will rise from these ashes.