A Cinderella Story
Homily for Ash Wednesday
Preached on February 10, 2016 at Jesus Our Savior Catholic Church in Morehead KY and Saint Julie Catholic Church in Owingsville KY
Readings: Joel 2:12-18; Psalm 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14, 17; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:2; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18
She was splendid underneath all that soot. Her lovely face may had been concealed by smirch from the chimney and stains from her daily chores, but Cinderella’s generous heart glowed when she tended to the lowly animals around her home and when she extended a hand to the barefoot beggar whom her stepsisters had rejected. That beggar turned out to be her fairy godmother in disguise and it was she who helped that dirty maiden smudged with cinders to appear as beautiful on the outside as she was on the inside.
In their version of the story, the Brothers Grimm call her ‘Aschenputtel,’ literally in German, a girl smeared with ashes. That name tells us that somehow we who are smudged with ashes this Wednesday can identify with Cinderella whose beauty and dignity have been hidden from sight by the soot of sin.
Today, even as we remember that [we] are dust and to dust [we] shall return (cf. Gen. 3:19), the Church also reminds us that our Father in Heaven sees what is hidden beneath the appearances that we keep (cf. Mt. 6:16). He who had made us in His own image (cf. Gen. 1:27) still sees the potential in us sinners to be holy as He is holy (cf. 1 Pt. 1:16). That was why “for our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who did not know sin” (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ lowered Himself and took on our human nature as His own. He masked His glory with our ash-covered face to reassure us that the dust is not our final destiny, not when He has in store for us a “happily ever after.”
In the fairy tale, Cinderella was taken by her prince from the chimney to the castle. In the tale of our faith, the Lord “raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap, [and] seats them with princes” (Ps. 113:7-8).
The Lord sees our hidden potential and He calls us to recover that potential. He recognizes the baptismal beauty that we have buried underneath and He invites us to wash away through His sacraments the blemish of blame that we wear. He asks us to remember that we are meant, not to build up our public image but, to reflect His own image and likeness.
That is why Christ teaches us to give alms and pray and fast in secret (cf. Mt. 6:3-4, 6, 17-18); He wants us to make sure that our good deeds spring from a sincere intention and not from a desire for attention. He wants the good and beautiful things that we do on the outside to reflect the good and beautiful that we have on the inside.
Cinderella gives all of us Christians an example of how to do this. No one was looking when an ash-covered Cinderella aided that barefoot beggar. Everyone was watching when a crowned Cinderella turned to her wicked stepmother and, instead of cursing her, chose to forgive her. Whether everyone was looking or none was, she did what was good because it was good. She teaches all of us today that we do not have to look good to be good and do good. We too can be splendid underneath all this soot.