What I'd love to see at tonight's debate: Ashes

It is Ash Wednesday, after all, and, if Joe Biden is willing to sport soot in public, then surely Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum will be, too.

Why do I want to see smudged crosses on their foreheads? It’s not because I want more folks to accuse Santorum of running to be “theologian in chief” or to question the sincerity of Newt Gingrich’s conversion, as thoughtful as those accusations and questions generally are (not). It’s also not so I have to field questions from areligious friends who think Christian (and specifically Catholic) customs like this one are odd, fun as that is (not). Nope — it’s because the ashes Catholics and some Protestants receive on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a symbol of something it’s always good to remember: “We are dust and to dust we shall return.” That puts everything in perspective, doesn’t it?

‘Course, Christians agree with Henry W. Longfellow when he wrote, “‘Dust thou art to dust returnest’ was not spoken of the soul.” That invests everything with meaning — but it also subordinates temporal matters (like politics!) to eternal ones.

But even non-Christians can benefit from remembering the one inevitability of life. “It is the first part of intelligence to recognize our precarious estate in life and the first part of courage to be not at all abashed before the fact,” as Robert Louis Stevenson put it. Time is running out on all of us: Why not be bold in the solutions we pursue to whatever problems we face?

If Gingrich and Santorum are ashless, though, I won’t question their dedication to their faith: Contrary to popular perception, today is not a holy day of obligation in the Catholic Church.

Update I: Ed said a contact at the Santorum campaign says he has no idea whether Santorum will wear ashes this evening and Guy Benson says Newt Gingrich has confirmed that he won’t be attending Mass today and, so, won’t be wearing ashes tonight.

Update II: According to Rick Klein via Guy Benson, Santorum is campaigning in Arizona with ashes on his head, so it’s probable he’ll still have ’em this evening.