Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader should try to blog more for Lent… In year’s past he’s tried to “do something more” rather than “give something up” for Lent. He had a priest tell him once that perhaps he (your Maximum Leader) should try to use the 40 days to create a new good habit rather than to try to break a bad one. His rationale was that when one give up something for Lent it makes one pine for it when Lent is over. It would be better to try to improve yourself in some way (while still being true to the spirit of Lent in showing abstinence, moderation, prayerfulness, and the like).


Your Maximum Leader will ask a general question here. On Ash Wednesday the Gospel reading is Matthew 6:1-6 and 16-18. For those who do not want to click, here are the passages:

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Take care not to perform righteous deeds
in order that people may see them;
otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father.
When you give alms,
do not blow a trumpet before you,
as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets
to win the praise of others.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you give alms,
do not let your left hand know what your right is doing,
so that your almsgiving may be secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you pray,
do not be like the hypocrites,
who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners
so that others may see them.
Amen, I say to you,
they have received their reward.
But when you pray, go to your inner room,
close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.
And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

“When you fast,
do not look gloomy like the hypocrites.
They neglect their appearance,
so that they may appear to others to be fasting.
Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
But when you fast,
anoint your head and wash your face,
so that you may not appear to be fasting,
except to your Father who is hidden.
And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

So, here is the thing your Maximum Leader has contemplated for the past few years, but only seems to contemplate on Ash Wednesday and then forgets about until the next Ash Wednesday. How does one reconcile walking around all day (or some portion of the day) with ashes on your head when the Gospel reading one heard just before receiving the ashes admonishes the faithful to not make a great show of their faith lest they be a hypocrite?

Yes. That is what your Maximum Leader has been thinking about today. In years past your Maximum Leader has washed the ashes off his forehead shortly after Mass. He didn’t want to appear “overly pious.” If you Maximum Leader was forced to describe what type of Catholic he is he would say “observant.” He (generally) does what he ought to do. He falls short in so many areas. But he tries. Perhaps more than the average person in the United States that describes themselves as Catholic. Anyhow, today the ashes stayed on almost all day. This was mostly a factor of not having time to wash properly. He did think, more than once, that he was being “showy” by keeping the ashes on his forehead.

Anyway… If you are observant, your Maximum Leader wishes that your Lenten observations are spiritually beneficial to you and serve to deepen your faith.

One final note… Your Maximum Leader is of British stock. Mostly Scottish. Much English. Some Welsh. Little Irish. (And, he’s told, a smidgen of Norwegian and German). He knows that his Catholic faith is something that “came into” his family only recently. More of his ancestors, certainly those that immigrated and were born in America, were Presbyterian. Presbyterian which befits his predominantly Scottish heritage. Recently Mrs. Villain has started to attend the local Presbyterian Church. Your Maximum Leader sometimes goes with her. For reason that do not need detail here, your Maximum Leader is good friends with the local Presbyterian Pastor at this church. In fact, your Maximum Leader regards the pastor as one of the best homilists (as a Catholic might say - preacher/sermoniser as others might say) that he’s ever had the pleasure to hear. Well… Here’s the point. It dawned on your Maximum Leader that the pastor might be trying to slow-roll a conversion to Presbyterianism on your Maximum Leader. He is very subtle about it, but there are some signs that he may be signalling to your Maximum Leader that the church of his ancestors is always out there if he wanted to come to the Calvinist side… Your Maximum Leader has not plans to do this… But he’s seen signs. As it were.

Carry on.


I seem to recall being told by a priest - possibly by our own Father M - that when you find yourself thinking more about what the ashes might mean to those around you than what they mean to you yourself, it’s time to wash them off. Where that frontier is located can be hard to determine.

My favorite part of that Gospel is about going into your closet and praying in secret. Getting myself up, dressed, and out of the house in the morning is quite a blur and a bustle and I don’t really have any peace until I get to my office, where I arrive earlier than just about anyone else. So it’s my routine to close my door and say my morning prayers once I get there. Sometimes I feel downright naughty and subversive, all the more so because nobody else knows about it.

Rank-and-file Protestant said:

I don’t have a direct answer for your question regarding ashes.

God can see our heart posture. I think that is more important to Him than ashes, or lack of ashes.

I don’t know if you are familiar with Timothy Keller, but he has preached on the passage you reference a few times. Some of the messages are available on YouTube.–mRYu2B4jU

Others are available in MP3 format from

Keller is not the only Protestant with thoughtful, well-prepared messages on this passage (and related ones). For example:

Hope you find these of interest.

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