The cross of ash on our forehead today conforms us to the image of the crucified One, the Word Made Flesh, through whom, in the expression of the Creed, “all things were made.” We come from the Father, Creator of the star dust from which we are formed. And through Christ, we return to the Father, giving back our mortal dust, now sanctified and renewed in the death of him “who knew no sin,” as Paul explains today in our second reading. In Christ, we ourselves “become the uprightness of God.”
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his followers that when they do penances they should wash their faces and anoint their heads with aromatic oil.
Is this not what we have already done… at our baptism? The baptismal washing and the anointing with the scented chrism oil have dissolved the grime of sin and made us presentable to enter the community of Christians as agreeable and fragrant companions in the Spirit.
Spiritual sacrifices and acts of penitence are not ends in themselves but are the exterior testimony that God’s love is at work within us. To give ourselves away as Christ gave himself for us is to embrace redemption and life.