Recently I made a quick trip to my hometown of Pittsburgh to visit family and friends. One of the rewarding things about my visit was being surrounded once again by the familiar black and gold of the Pittsburgh sports teams – the Steelers, the Pirates and the Penguins. Black and gold was everywhere, and it felt like home.
Fans in New England have a similar allegiance to their teams, though the local clubs sport a variety of colors – for the Patriots, the Bruins, the Celtics and the Red Sox. I guess wherever you travel in the U.S. you’ll find sports fans showing their pride for the local teams with caps, tee shirts, sweatshirts, decals, and lots of other gear.
Christians cheer their favorite team too, a team that has Jesus as its owner, coach and star player. And although we’re proud members of the Jesus Fan Club, we don’t often show it publicly. Our allegiance is usually very private and that, perhaps, is unfortunate.
One notable exception to that is on Ash Wednesday when many Catholics enter a church and come out wearing a cross of black ashes on their heads. It’s a practice that non-believers must find really bizarre, but Catholics know exactly what it means. It means that we are Christians, that we belong to Christ, and that we’re about to enter a serious, spiritual journey called Lent. I’m always edified to see people in public life – athletes, politicians, TV personalities, and everyday citizens – comfortably wearing their ashes throughout the day.
But Ash Wednesday isn’t the only time we’re marked by the Cross of Christ. It happens first at Baptism when the priest signs the child on the forehead with the cross and says boldly: “I claim you for Christ our Savior by the sign of his cross.” It happens again in Confirmation when the bishop signs the candidate with sacred chrism and says, “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Thus, several times in our lives – on Ash Wednesday, at Baptism and Confirmation, and on other occasions – we are “branded” with the cross of Jesus. It says we belong to him, and that we are part of his team. Yes indeed, we are proud members of the Jesus Fan Club.
Something to think about: Did you receive ashes on Ash Wednesday? Did you wear them all day? Were you comfortable doing that? Did anyone react to that?