If you’re out and about today you might notice some folks with giant black smudges on their forehead. It’s ok, don’t worry for them. They know they look foolish. It’s Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and Catholics around the world are sporting their ashes. Some may be wishing they had bangs, like I used to because I was mortified to walk around with this obvious sign of my religion on my face.
This morning for work I had to give out the ashes. I was terrified. I mean, it’s one thing to minister to teenagers, it’s quite another to be in charge of ashes for the die-hards at the weekday morning Mass. It all went fine. No drips on people’s noses, which I was particularly proud of having had black all over my face in years past from some not so gentle ash-pushers.
Why am I telling you all of this? Well, the readings in today’s Mass struck me particularly hard and I wanted to write about why. I know what you’re thinking, “Oh, no all this change, does that mean she’s going to start preaching on here now?”. Never fear, a preacher I am not. I’m all for private faith and people choosing their own path. So there will be no preaching the word.
But I will share what I heard this morning because I think it will resonate with anyone trying to live a good life-Catholic or otherwise. In the first reading we heard we were to be “Ambassadors of Christ” which, I’ll admit, always makes me a little nervous (see above non-preaching references). I started thinking about what it meant to be an ambassador of anything, which usually includes being diplomatic and acting in a way that represents someone or something well to others. We tell our children they are to be ambassadors for their school when they’re out and about. We told sorority girls they were ambassadors of the group if they were out in letters. Being an ambassador doesn’t mean door-to-door evangelization or attempts to convert people to your way. On social media you are an ambassador for a brand. Being an ambassador simply means representing well and treating others fairly. I thought I could get behind that for ole’ Jesus.
Then, the Gospel came and it’s one of my favorites, quite possibly the reason I stay in the Church. It’s Matthew telling us about Jesus warning us about sounding our own gong. We’re instructed to beware of practicing piety in front of others in order to be seen by them. We are told to pray alone, not loudly for a crowd. We are told to fast privately and make ourselves look good doing it, so we are not wearing our sacrifices on our sleeve. In short, be a good person because you are supposed to be a good person, not because you want people to applaud you for being a good person.
This message, coupled with being an ambassador of Christ, really hit home today. Yes, my job title includes Minister, but I have never felt comfortable with the “evangelization” part of that job. When my kids ask what it means when they’re told to evangelize, I tell them they’re to act kindly to others and not be selfish or rude and that will show people what it means to be Catholic. Today, I heard enough to make me feel like this message is ok to send to my kids and the kids I work with. In this day of social media, where we share everything with everybody, maybe keeping our faith between ourselves and whom we believe in is more than enough.
Evangelization doesn’t have to look like door to door sales. We aren’t meant to shout our prayers from the rooftops. Being an ambassador and doing what is right simply for the sake of common good and not for ego or praise? That’s evangelization I can feel comfortable with, even if I’m still not so keen on these ashes.