Ash Wednesday and witnessing
asked this question on 3/1/2001:
Are the ashes given on Ash Wednesday merely a symbol to the person or must one wear them publicly? I've received the ashes at church and then wiped them off before going to work or to the store. I guess probably because I figure most people who are not Catholic won't know what they are and will look at you weird. I've seen some people proudly wear them so I'm wondering if we are supposed to witness to our Lenten activities in this fashion.
May the Spirit guide you during this time of conversion.
Reading your question, I remembered the countless times when I had the same feelings. I was afraid of people giving me a weird look because of my faith and squirming in my interior because somehow I was filtered out from the 'normal' persons and stood out so that people would give me 'the' look.
That made me realize that in many aspects of my life I was guided by what other people thought and said. I tried many tricks to get over it, ridiculizing people in my mind, supposing embarrassing situations for them or just despising them. All to no avail. I continued to squirm inside.
However, I found out that when something really mattered there was never a problem about squirming inside. Somehow, on the road of my life the Lord taught me to love all those people because I had something precious to tell and to give. I found out that telling people about the experience of Christ's resurrection in my life had a wonderful impact on them. This way the outward signs of my faith became something like bait that made them ask or offer a remark. They were hooked! When someone asks or makes a remark he-she automatically expects a reaction. The reaction being a very brief resume of God's wonderful deeds in my life certainly has them paying attention. And more than one of them got hooked for good.
Years ago nobody meeting me on the street would have known that I was a Catholic priest. I wore ordinary civilian clothes. The rationale was that I wanted to be part of normal life.
Sometime ago I begun to wear again a cassock. People certainly look at this not very impressive specimen of the clergy. But it's bait too! I remember waiting on a street corner for a taxi when a youth passed by pedaling furiously his bike. He saw me and braked right there, turned around and said: "Please, father, could you hear my confession?" Right there on the street corner he made his peace with God. The cassock did it. More than once strangers come over and ask or comment.
You see it's not so much about complying with a law or a requirement. It's about the fact of your experience of Christ in your life. If you have felt His impact on you life then you have experienced wonderful changes. You began to live a much happier life. Taking into account that simply telling about your experience frequently arouses something very similar in the other one you can imagine that you will welcome the use of the signs the Church or Christian practice provides.
You see that's very different from trying to motivate yourself by reasoning: A baptized Christian has automatically the calling to be a witness. I'm not talking about the imposition witnessing of some of our evangelical brethren either. I'm talking about being happy and wanting the other one to be happy too.
Perhaps there has not been yet a real impact in your life? Pray for it. But I warn you. Getting what you ask will make you very uncomfortable because it will change your beloved routine. But I can assure you that you will be happy and experience the innate desire that others be happy too. To express it with other words: the Lord is reaching out from your inside in order to help the others. Therefore, an initial weird look can become the first phase of conversion.
You will love those weird looks because you know that the Lord is planning new conquests. It's not our preoccupation if everything will go according to our plan. Our's is to make use of the opportunity. His providence will do the rest.