This article was originally published March 1st, 2017 as part of our #EvangelizeThisLent series, which focused on Lent as an ideal time for evangelization due to the increased visibility of our faith (i.e. ashes and fasting). It has been updated to reflect current Mass times and minor edits.
Lent is a time when we practice our faith in a very visible way, but do you know what to say when someone asks, "Why do you have dirt on your face?" This Lent we will be answering common questions that your friends, co-workers, families, or strangers may ask so that you feel able to answer.
It's Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. Maybe you went to Mass this morning. Maybe you're coming to the 6:00 pm Mass. Either way there's a good chance that sometime between receiving your ashes and getting home, you will run into someone who asks about the smudged cross on your forehead. How do you answer?
You might shrug it off and say "It's a Catholic thing," but this is a great opportunity to Evangelize!
There are numerous passages in the Bible that use ashes as a sign of mourning. A commonly referenced one is Daniel 9:3 "I turned to the Lord God, to seek help, in prayer and petition, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes." But what does Lent have to with mourning? Lent is a very special time in the liturgical year we prepare for Easter. It's a time where we stop and focus on our relationship with God. We look at our lives and decide where we can grow spiritually and where we can turn away from sin. The ashes we receive on Ash Wednesday are an outward sign of our Lenten journey to draw closer to God.
Okay, but what about that whole "Dust to dust" part?
Pope Benedict XVI shared this, "Man is dust and to dust he shall return, but dust is precious in God's eyes because God created man, destining him to immortality.” Ashes might be a physical sign of death, but Lent is a time of rebirth. We repent (turn away from sin and toward God) letting our old life die so we can move toward an eternal life with God. God loves us so much that even when our bodies return to dust, our souls live on.
Not sure what to say?
When in doubt, share something personal. People can argue Biblical interpretations and theology, but they can't say your personal experience is wrong. You could say something along the lines of "I'm working on improving my relationship with God. This is the start of Lent, a special time when I'm preparing for the Passion and Resurrection of my Lord, Jesus Christ, who died so my sins could be forgiven and I could have an eternal life. The ashes remind me that I can be better at loving God and living my faith. Thanks for asking!"
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