I actually heard him before I saw him. The young man in the checkout lane was carrying on a rather loud conversation with the woman in front of me as I got in line. He talked too loudly and too much, as if he needed to fill a void with his continuous chatter and nervous laughter. As I stepped up and laid my purchases on the counter, he glanced at my forehead and quipped: "Ash Wednesday, huh?" "Yes," I answered as I laid my purchases on the counter and pushed the can of tuna to the front. "Got my fish," I announced'
The young man assured me that he, too would have gotten his ashes today, but he had slept until noon and then had to work until tonight. As he finished checking me out, I told him not to forget his fish or cheese pizza that night. Immediately he responded with energy that although he was greatful that Jesus had died for him, he wasn't going to let that keep him from eating meat if he wanted! Obviously I had pushed a button, because he repeated that nobody was going to tell him what he could and could not eat. Surprised at his outburst, I mumbled something about it being hard to explain, as he continued to rant as I headed for the door, telling myself that either he was an uncatechized young Catholic, or a Christian of a denomination that still claimed the Ash Wednesday tradition in part but had lost the attached disciplines of fast and abstinence.
Interesting that even though he would not acknowledge anyone else's authority to make decisions for him, he felt inclined, at the outset of our conversation, to tell me he would have gotten his ashes, but.... He connected with the ash cross, even though he might be ignorant of its deeper meaning of discipleship and obedience to the discipline of God's will, not his.
Her rather reminds me of those who elect to go to a "distribution of ashes" service without attending a Mass and receiving Eucharist. That, I always have said, is getting the sign of the promise to change without receiving the nourishment to assist the effort. they miss the true reason for the ashes, at the same time, for some reason of habit or custom, they desire to receive them.