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Dear Sister Sunday

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A Catholic Guide to Ashes

Dear Sister Sunday,

I’m a Catholic professional. I always go to Ash Wednesday Mass at noon, but I always feel so embarrassed afterwards. I have to go back to my job in customer service with what looks like dirt on my forehead. I can see people staring right above my eyes and I’ve even had some of them lean over and try to wipe off the smudge. It’s almost worse when someone comes up to me and whispers, “You’ve got something on your face.”

Can I ask the priest to put the ashes on my hair? Or can I just go to Mass and skip the ashes?

Signed, Uneasy

Dear Uneasy,

Do me a favor. It won’t take long. Go to your closet (or just scan what you’re wearing as you read this) and take a quick inventory of all the items you have that bear someone’s name or logo or alphabet soup: Ralph Lauren or Kate Spade or Levis or Nike or DKNY or Sketchers. Do you wear these clothes in public? In the daylight? To the office and the gym and to parties and on dates? If so (and I’m looking at the ubiquitous swoosh on my shoes as I consider your letter) then clearly your discomfort is not with branding, per se; it’s with the branding — and the sign of the cross is a brand, the mark of our first and final belonging — that ashes represent.

Whatever you decide to do this Ash Wednesday, why don’t you resolve to spend some time asking yourself why you don’t mind having Lee branded on your bottom, but do mind having Christ branded on your forehead? Then write me back and we’ll talk.

May your Lent be blessed,

Sister Sunday