Random Nun Clips

If you wear ashes, is that like parading around your holiness?

Podcast Recorded: February 3, 2016

In this Random Nun Clip, a listener asks if people who wear ashes on Ash Wednesday are showing off their holiness. Hear the full Ask Sister podcast at AS180.

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Sister Maxine  
This Random Nun Clip is brought to you by A Nun's Life Ministry. This question comes in from Ben in Nevada. And Ben writes, "Scripture says we shouldn't parade around our holiness. Why, then, do we wear ashes on our forehead on Ash Wednesday?" Ben didn't say which verse exactly he was referring to, but it may be the one from Matthew, Matthew 6:1-8, and it begins. "Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that other people may see them. Otherwise, you will have no recompense from God. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues, and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward." And then further down, in verse five: "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners, so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward."

Sister Julie  
One of the questions that is raised here by Ben is, is the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday considered parading our holiness? I mean, it's an interesting combination of two things. I wear cross. I wear a symbol of my congregation that I belong to, the IHM sisters. Does that therefore mean--is it a sense of parading holiness? Just having an outward sign doesn't necessarily equate to "parading around."

Sister Maxine  
I think it would be one thing if he was making a point of it to all of his friends and all of his buddies at work or at school or wherever he is, and putting on pretensions of being holier than thou, as were the case. To, as you say, wear it as a sign is a different matter entirely.

Sister Julie  
For those who are not familiar with all the practices of Ash Wednesday, on Ash Wednesday, we of course, have ashes which are made by burning the palms that were blessed and used during Palm Sunday, which, of course, would have happened the Sunday before. The ashes are distributed to each person, a sign of the cross is made on their forehead, and the person administering them will say, "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Or they might say, "Repent and believe in the Gospel," two very good Lenten themes. And so we have these ashes on our forehead, and you know, some people, you get them first thing in the morning, they go to an Ash Wednesday service. Some go on their break at lunch, and of course, their evenings. Once you have those ashes on your forehead, a dilemma arises.

Sister Maxine  
What to do? How many'd you get? Because, you know, have you ever had the ones--it's like just a little tiny one. And then there's the other ones that are like all the way?

Sister Julie  
Yeah, I think that ash distributors--[laughter].

Sister Maxine  
Some are very enthusiastic!

Sister Julie  
Some are very enthusiastic. Some ashes have more tenacity than others do. And so you can end up with a whopper of a cross as it were. You're a little self-conscious. I know, we talked about self-consciousness earlier, but a little self-conscious. You've got these ashes on your forehead. And on the one hand, there's a lot of meaning personally and within the Catholic community of what that means. It's like it is a sign just like, like crossing ourselves or wearing a cross or holding a rosary. It is a tangible sign of this spiritual renewal, this awareness of who we are in our lives and our desire to grow closer to God.

Sister Maxine  
The point with it as with many tangible signs is that it just doesn't remain on the outside, that there's some internalization of all of this. I don't believe the church requires that you keep your ashes on all the time and maybe there are times where you can't. If you have swimming practice that would be hard to keep your ashes on. But to realize the internal value is what's lasting, is that sign to let it speak to you and to your life. To hear full episodes of A Nun's Life podcasts, visit the podcast page at anunslife.org/podcasts.

This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.

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