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The Mystery of Ash Wednesday’s Popularity

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

On Wednesday, Catholics and other Christians across the world will gather to receive ashes as a reminder that “for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19). Despite not being a holy day of obligation, Ash Wednesday is traditionally one of the liturgical year’s most attended Masses with attendance increasing even more in recent years. This solemn but sobering Mass reminding us of our sins, frailty, and dependence upon God is more popular than ever. Why? 


It would seem that our culture’s quick dismissal of God and celebration of self would make Ash Wednesday an absurdly dated practice that has no place in our tolerant, self-affirming culture where you can be you, and I can be me.

Just last week, Americans were exposed to an overtly demonic performance of “Unholy” by Sam Smith and Kim Petras, who is transgender. As desperate as the performance was, the real cry for help actually came beforehand when Petras spoke to the Associated Press.

“I just never got a chance to know about spirituality or be accepted by God. So, to me, it’s like mythology. To me, it’s like a fairy tale or any other story.”

So without having ever given revealed religion a chance, Petras joined the church of progressive dogma. And like many other confused and impressionable young people, Petras has been seduced by its covenant, including the commandment that sacrifice in the form of body mutilation and self-harm will fill a void of emptiness. 

Man’s desire to play God to redesign human nature and create a utopia on earth dates back to the start of time. But it’s reached new heights in 21st-century America with open acceptance of late-term abortion, infanticide, and the willingness to deny medical care to a baby girl who survives an abortion.  


Following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Democrats flooded the streets and airways alike, insisting that the act of ending life is an unalienable right. No longer do they even bother to hide behind the mantra of “safe, legal, and rare.” Today, they proclaim their love of and worship for abortion far and wide—and often speak in religious terms. It seems to be their sacrament that can solve all problems. 

Actress Anne Hathaway, for one, did just that. On The View, she attested, “My own personal experience with abortion, and I don’t think we talk about this enough—abortion can be another word for ‘mercy.’” Unfortunately, her mistaken view of abortion as “mercy” is not uncommon. 

The abortion industrial complex—comprised of government, Big Pharma, Planned Parenthood, and other non-profits—has marketed abortion as a compassionate alternative to motherhood. Women are told that not being quite ready to be a mother justifies the right to decide the fate of another human being. 

In the Bible, mercy is defined as forgiveness and compassion, specifically carried out by the withholding of punishment. Ms. Hathaway, do you think your abortion was “withholding punishment” from your child?


Recently, comedian Chelsea Handler took her radical beliefs to the next level. In a video titled “A Day In The Life Of a Childless Woman,” she brags about, among other daily activities, sleeping in until 12:30 pm, eating edibles, going to her “fave spot in Paris to grab a croissant,” and doing “a meditation sesh.” 

Handler’s life is downright depressing. It consists of nothing other than self-indulgences and materialistic acts of escapism that even she is trying to rationalize to herself in this ridiculous video. She basks in the glory of not having children when in fact, she was a mother—a mother to two unborn children that she, in her own words, proudly aborted. We’ve worked with tens of thousands of women who’ve had an abortion, and they may not regret it, but they're never proud of it. It’s evident that Handler is angry, lonely, and does not speak for women who have gone through the trauma of abortion. There’s no clearer sign than comically broadcasting this sad reality to the entire world. 

Ash Wednesday’s surging global embrace comes from the innate human desire to transcend the temporal and the corporeal and come face to face with who we are, who we aren’t, and who we ought to be. It’s a refreshing break from a world consumed with self, constantly changing identities, and getting outside of one’s head. Ash Wednesday is more popular than ever because it is a break from self in a self-absorbed culture. It may seem dry, depressing, and un-affirming, but in 2023 Ash Wednesday is water in the desert. 


Shawn Carney is President and CEO of 40 Days for Life, the world’s largest pro-life organization, and bestselling author of 4 books, including What to Say When: The Complete New Guide to Discussing Abortion. Follow on Twitter: @CarneyShawn

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