Well, Ash Wednesday is here. And today you will see a lot of people marked with the ashes. It is puzzling to some why the Church gives us a gospel today (Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18) that seems to indicate that we should not make any changes to our appearance or mark ourselves to show that we are fasting, sacrificing, praying. a careful reading shows that Jesus did not say we should not "perform righteous deeds... give alms... pray... fast". Rather, He said that when we do these things, it should not be so that others see or praise us for doing these actions that are supposed to be between us and God.
This leads us to today's question: "What do the ashes mean?" It will be different for each one of us, but we need to make a conscious decision why we are being marked with them. And it is not for anyone else to know. Maybe they are a sign that I am going to refrain from some enjoyable activity. Maybe they are to indicate that I will undertake a special practice for the season. Perhaps they are a reminder that I have to pay more attention to someone I have neglected. It might be that they are to mark me as a person who will be letting go of a long-held grudge. Whatever the case, they are supposed to mean something, and not to others who may see them. The only person they need to mean something to is the person who looks back at me from the mirror. What will your ashes mean today?