What is that all about?
It is a question one parishioner told me she encountered as she went about her routine on Ash Wednesday. Polite, cautious even, the question was directed at the smudge of black on her forehead – her ashes.
Hard as it is to believe that this annual ritual should be unfamiliar to anyone, we may be startled to find someone who approaches us with that simple question, especially when the question is from someone who is so completely unfamiliar with Christianity that he does not recognize the mark of ashes, and so curious about it that he will risk humiliation to ask a personal question like that of a total stranger?
What you have before you at that moment, right there in McDonalds or CVS or the line at the bank, is someone who does not know Jesus, who wants to know about Him, and about your relationship with Him. Are you Always … ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, as Saint Peter admonishes us? (1 Pt 3:15)
Can you tell them how Jesus is the source of your life and your hope for life eternal? Can you tell them that only Jesus sacrifices His life for our sins and shortcomings, so that we are freed from them, in this life and the life that continues forever? Can you tell them why Jesus gives you hope? Can you tell them what life is like without fear? Can you tell them that Jesus is God and He wants them, too, to Be not afraid?
Can you tell them that Jesus makes His life and forgiveness and glory available to everyone in all times through His Church, where He is worshipped in spirit and in truth? Can you tell them that by joining yourself to this Church in practicing penance and mortification, you are joining yourself in your own body to Christ’s sacrifice, and therefore uniting your body also to His glorious, risen body?
If you can’t tell them, can you invite them? Can you give them something that will help them understand? Can you get to know them better, to expand your opportunity to teach them?
For such a simple question, that is a lot of answer. But imagine how much they do not know if they are asking that question. Imagine how hungry they must be to know the One who knows them better than they know themselves. Imagine how lonely a place this world must be if they do not know that. Imagine how much you have to give them!
In calling us to share in His salvation, Jesus also gives us a share in the Church’s mission of bringing that salvation to every human being ever. This Lent, whatever your penances and practices, whatever you are “giving up”, pause each time and ask yourself: how do I explain this to someone who asks me what I am doing?
To be able to answer that question in confidence is one goal of Lent. So keep that goal in sight as we move through the desert with Jesus this year, always ready to answer anyone who asks, What is that all about?
Because it is ALL about Jesus.