Some years ago, in a meeting during lent, a marist brother surprisingly announced that he hadn't joined the line for the lent ashes imposition. Even more, he pulled off a perfume and suggested us to put some on ourselves. Yes, this is a real story!, and since then, it comes back to my mind every lent.
The ashes are a liturgical element, and as such they are great. They are an external sign of something internal, namely our human fragility, the need of conversion etc. But outside the liturgical context, the ashes may be a showing-off sign. In New York, for instance, I always saw a bunch of people with the ashes in their foreheads all day long. I don't know if this was out of an excess of respect to the ashes, or maybe an opportunity to talk about christianity to the stand-by-surprised people, but to me, it seemed like they were saying "Look, I am such a good christian!". And New York is not the only place where I encountered this. During lent mass in In Portsmouth I even heard the priest asking the school children that were attending not to remove the ashes until the end of the day. Maybe the ashes are a good opportunity for them to stand out as Christians in the very secularised UK society. Yet not every opportunity needs to be taken. It could be done in another they and in another fashion, specially when in fact, today's gospel ask us to to otherwise:
“When you fast, do not do like the hypocrites, who put a sad apparence and distort they faces so that every one will see that they are fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast, perfume your head and wash your face¨ (Mt 6.16-17, read on Ash Wednesday)
This is what our marist brother remembers us. Today's gospel is a call for interior conversion, which obviously will require some external sings, but be careful not to fall into showing off ourselves or feeling that we are better than others. All in all, I want the ashes, but I also want the perfume.
Have a good lent, everyone!