There is a picture on Facebook of a couple of young priests offering “ashes to go ” at a college library. While I have no doubt they are hoping to be evangelistic with this act, I fear it supports what is wrong with “Christianity” in America and some of the very things from which we should be repenting this day.
First, to give “ashes to go” robs the individual of corporate worship. Radical individualism is already a grievous sin of the American Church. We only go to church when it is convenient, we want to “get something out of it” when we go, and if the music doesn’t suit me then I will just go down the road or watch on the internet. The concept of gathering as Christ’s Body to minister to Him ( hence it is not about me) is lost in our individualism.
Second, a drive by ash service robs the individual of thorough self examination. The liturgy of Ash Wednesday offered IN the Church certainly does but being cool and getting your ashes on the go does not. Without a thorough self examination and repentance, how complete would absolution be? Are we taking sin seriously or giving it a wink and a nod? Damage to a person’s soul is a high price to pay for being “relevant.”
Third, it supports would could be idolatry, in seeking a religious experience apart from the Lord of that experience. Getting ashes to get a good feeling, or putting a rosary around your rear view mirror to make you feel safe, or going to worship to get a religious high are all potential snares. If we look to these things and not to the One behind them then we are practicing false piety.
Radical individualism, not taking sin seriously and false piety are sins about which we need to repent not promote. I know that they too often describe me and I need help from the Church with amendment of life. Don’t give me shortcuts, for heaven’s sake!
Many years ago, before entering the priesthood, when my son was still small, we knelt together at the rail to receive the imposition of ashes. As we were returning to our pew my son said “Dad, I feel weird”. Believing that he just had his first experience with being faced with his own mortality and his accountability to God, I said, “We are supposed to.” It is that spirit that I hope instead of feeling cool that we had ashes today, I hope that we will all feel just a little weird.