• A young woman prays during Ash Wednesday Mass at Jesus the Divine Word Church in Huntingtown, Md., March 6, 2019.

    A young woman prays during Ash Wednesday Mass at Jesus the Divine Word Church in Huntingtown, Md., March 6, 2019. (CNS photo by Bob Roller)

Ashes on Catholics’ foreheads may encourage questions from others

Jennifer Burke/Catholic Courier    |    02.25.2020
Category: Our Two Cents


Ash Wednesday is not until tomorrow, but I’ve already been thinking about this day for a few weeks.

I’ve been working on an article about how Catholics feel going about their business in public after receiving ashes on their foreheads. I wondered if the ashes made them feel anxious, as if they’d been “outed” as Catholics, particularly if they were not accustomed to talking about their faith. Conversely, I wondered if the ashes made them feel empowered, as if they were an outward symbol of the strength of their faith.

I put my query out on Facebook and received a variety of answers. One of my favorite answers, however, was one that I can’t really use. The answer was beautifully and thoughtfully worded, and the only reason I can’t use it is because it came from my dad, and I think journalistic ethics prevent me from quoting my dad in a story. I would like to share part of his comment here, however.

My dad said, “I believe God places opportunities in our lives. In the past I’ve had people see the ashes and feel empowered to start a conversation with me about it or other spiritual things. That would probably not have happened otherwise.”

I think many times we — including myself — view the ashes in an introspective way, thinking about ourselves and the way we experience Lent and our faith. I don’t think I’d really considered the way Ash Wednesday also serves as an evangelization opportunity. If there are people we interact with who have questions about the Catholic faith, seeing our ashes — and our willingness to display our faith — might give them the encouragement they need to voice those questions. If we’re open enough about our faith to display our ashes.

Burke is a staff writer for the Catholic Courier.

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