**Reposted from last year. I went and reread it and didn't really have anything to add.**
"You have a little smudge, right there, on your forehead." Then a helpful hand reaches out to brush it away. This scene will be replayed over and over again today as total strangers try to save me from the embarrassment of walking around with a dirty face.
Standing out from the norm is not easy; having something which marks us as somehow apart from everyone else is not always comfortable. It is the mark upon my forehead which today proclaims that I am not one of the crowd. It defiantly marks me as a Catholic in a part of the world which is outspokenly not.
There are few Catholics here, and even fewer practicing Catholics, so our ash smudged foreheads seem very out of place. This unfamiliarity brings out the handkerchiefs, the licked thumbs, the helpful swipes. By the end of the day, the children and I will be adept at the Catholic backbend which protects the marks upon our brows and becomes symbolic of something greater.
These same helpful people who would remove our smudges are symbols of the greater world. They remind us of how eager the world is to remove from us any trace of Christ or His Church. They represent those who would convince us that contraception is fine and the Church is wrong, that Confession is un-Biblical, that prayers to saints are idolatrous or pointless, that the denomination we belong to really does not matter in the eyes of God, or that somehow God himself does not exist and that all of our efforts are vain so we should enjoy our lives while we have them. It will not be tissue they use to remove the mark of our faith, but words and arguments and even their own love for us will become their spot remover of choice.
It is because of their kind efforts that we must pray harder, go to Mass more often, sacrifice more, read God's word more attentively, and spend more time with our Lord in Adoration. We must perfect our spiritual backbends, our ways of evading their attempts at removing our Catholicity. Ash Wednesday is just the warm-up for what lies ahead.
Happy Ash Wednesday Everyone! May your cross surprise no one today, and may you willingly accept the daily challenge that it offers.