Ashes: A witness of evangelization
By Shayne Duvall
Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel. These words are proclaimed by a priest or minister on Ash Wednesday as they trace the sign of the cross on our foreheads with ashes.
This simple command is twofold. To turn away from sin calls us to conversion. Being faithful to the Gospel calls us, in part, to evangelization.
Conversion may be different for each individual. For some it may be obvious — such as St. Paul’s experience in the Book of Acts (Acts 9:1-19). We are “knocked off our horses” and we hear the voice of God. For others, conversion could happen in the silence of our hearts and feel like a breath of wind brushing across our faces.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1435, says, “Conversion is accomplished in daily lives by gestures of reconciliation, concern for the poor, the exercise and defense of justice and right, by the admission of faults to one’s brethren, fraternal correction, revision of life, examination of conscience, spiritual direction, acceptance of suffering, endurance of persecution for the sake of righteousness. Taking up one’s cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.”
Evangelizing — spreading the Gospel message — naturally flows from conversion. When we receive good news or when something exciting happens to us, we want to let people know about it. The same is true when we proclaim the message of Christ.
We evangelize in the way that we act and speak, the way we teach and listen, the way we serve others and when we portray our joy for the church. They allow us to experience the love and mercy God has for us.
In October, Pope Benedict XVI is convening a synod of bishops to discuss the New Evangelization. The synod will focus on how we can bring the Good News to our own Catholic brothers and sisters in new and exciting ways and how we can renew the evangelizing spirit among us.
Now is the time for Catholics to recommit themselves to the baptismal call. We will be challenged to evangelize our own Catholic family members, friends and strangers so they can experience a conversion of heart. What better time to begin this mission than during the season of Lent?
Ash Wednesday is a time to focus on what conversion and evangelization mean in our lives. The ashes we receive are a physical and visible sign — a reminder — of what the church is calling us to do. What happens the next day when those ashes have been wiped clean? Is it fair to be witnesses and followers of Christ only when the ashes are fresh and visible on our foreheads for others to see?
For 40 days we will have time to prepare our hearts and minds and to enter into the desert of our souls. We will focus more on prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Throughout the archdiocese, we will have more opportunities for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and there will be an increase in parish missions and retreats.
We will meditate on the Stations of the Cross, our rosary beads will show more wear, and we will have more opportunities to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration.
We will join friends and family at the local fish fries, remembering how important community is for the life of our church.
As an inspiration, consider the second reading for Ash Wednesday, which comes from St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians: “Brothers and sisters: We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
An ambassador for Christ is an evangelizer for the church, and being reconciled to God is one step toward conversion. Our ashes may only last for a day or so, but the mark they leave on our hearts will never vanish, so turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
Shayne Duvall is coordinator of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Louisville.
(The Record 2.16.12)