If you scroll through Facebook or Twitter today (if you haven’t given up social media for Lent), you’ll find a minor debate on the blogosphere over whether Ash Wednesday selfies are appropriate or in direct opposition to today’s Gospel reading about not standing on street corners so everyone can see how holy you are. Of course, we could ask the same question about the very act of walking around in public with ashes on your forehead, with or without a selfie, but that’s a blog post for another day. As for Ash Wednesday selfies, my husband, Dennis, and I have come up with a really great twist on the current trend toward the #ashtag. (Updated to show our double selfie because what’s good for the students is good for the teachers!)
Because it is mid-winter break here in upstate New York, our ninth-grade faith formation class is not in session today. For probably at least 50 percent of our 24 students, however, Ash Wednesday would be a day off anyway since going to church isn’t really part of their thing. Because Dennis and I had to miss a class last week due to three simultaneous kids’ events in three different places, we bumped our faith formation session to Ash Wednesday and told the kids that no matter where they attend Mass — in our home parish of St. Thomas or at a church in Orlando or at grandma’s parish in New York City — to take a selfie wearing their ashes and text it to me with a one- or two-word description of what they will be giving up/doing for Lent.
My daughter (and student) informed me that there was no way these teens were going to publicly post a selfie with an #ashtag, so we had to find a way around that. Hence, the texting option. But plenty of other Catholic groups and individuals will be snapping and posting Ash Wednesday self-portraits using hashtags. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is using #ashtag. Busted Halo is using #showusyourash. I’m sure there are many other variations.
Some argue it’s a crass–and self-indulgent way– to mark Ash Wednesday, but if we can get a few young people to go to church when they otherwise might have skipped it, then it’s well worth taking a few hits from the naysayers.