By Roxane B. Salonen
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers,
let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” ~ Matthew 16:24
“There’s dirt on your forehead.” The barista’s words at the drive-thru surprised me. “It’s Ash Wednesday,” I replied. He looked at me sideways and quietly handed me my drink.
I’d wrongly assumed most in our world recognized Lenten ashes on the foreheads of Catholics and others observing this practice. No more.
Another time, at an after-hours office party on Ash Wednesday, a co-worker, staring at my forehead, finally got up the nerve to tell me I hadn’t washed my face that morning.
On this day, I’ve also been accused of ignoring Matthew 6:17-18, in which Jesus tells his followers that, when fasting, they should do so in secret.
These challenges have made the weight of wearing the cross more real.
A call to be watchful
In his Ash Wednesday homily in 2006, Pope Benedict XVI highlighted how “Every day, but particularly in Lent, Christians must face a struggle, like the one Christ underwent in the desert of Judea, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil,” noting that this battle “involves the whole of the person and demands attentive and constant watchfulness.”
The imposition of ashes, he said, is “not merely ritualistic, but something very deep that touches our hearts,” reminding us that “external gestures must always be matched by a sincere heart and consistent behavior.”
The fight of our lives
Sometimes, our hearts are misunderstood. We may feel bare and exposed, as did Jesus on the cross. Remember, we’re in the fight of our lives, but no more alone than Jesus, whose Father was always nearby, loving, listening, and providing everything needed to face the foe.
I’ve returned to my earlier way of approaching the ashen cross, delighting in wearing it for the sake of Christ, but duly challenged by it, too, as I seek to align my exterior and interior actions and my heart with that of our Lord’s.
Dear Lord, help me learn this Lent how to wear and carry the cross with more purpose and with the confidence that I am never alone in this; that you are always leading the charge.
Call to Action
What one change can you make this Lent to align the interior with the exterior? Consider perhaps refraining from gossip, biting your tongue during an argument, or adding a new prayer to your daily routine. Try choosing something that can endure beyond Lent.
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