After voting in an election, we feel like we’ve performed our civic duty. Whether or not our vote makes a difference, we leave the voting booth knowing we have done all we can, and a fleeting feeling of civic fulfillment flows through us. We vote primarily out of our concern for an election’s outcome, and to do what we can to affect its course. I’m not going to pretend that I don’t make sure to grab an “I Voted” sticker on the way out of the voting booth. I wear it proudly for the rest of the day. I want my friends, my colleagues and even strangers on the street to know that I voted. It’s easy to draw similarities between the rituals of democracy and those of Catholicism. A sprinkling of crucifixes, a dearth of condoms, a few contentious administrative policies and the occasional Jesuit sighting aside, it’s easy to forget that Georgetown is a Catholic university. Reflective of the many opinions you find here, our campus ministry promotes religious pluralism. The cliché that I heard from Blue and Gray when I toured the university as a prospective student has come to ring true for me: Georgetown is “as Catholic as you make it.” I’ve chosen to make it not very Catholic at all. I’m always happy to disagree with those whose beliefs differ from mine, and I support their right to have them. For the university to be a credible academic institution, I believe it must preserve the status quo of optional religiosity. But I was reminded on Wednesday, as I have been reminded on each of the Ash Wednesdays of the past two years, that I have a minority view at Georgetown. According to Georgetown’s Office of Programs and Institutional Research, 52 percent of Georgetown students identify as Roman Catholic, while another 24 percent are some other denomination of Christianity. Being Caucasian, and coming from a more or less middle-class background, I don’t often think of myself as a minority at Georgetown. By Wednesday evening, though, I was overwhelmed by a scan around the library. The foreheads of many of those around me were marked with ash, denoting that they had gone to Mass for Ash Wednesday. Without this sign on my face, I felt momentarily alienated. Perhaps I was drawing false conclusions, but in my eyes there was a sense of solidarity among those around me with ash on their foreheads. The ash represented my fellow students’ identification with beliefs to which I do not subscribe and a common experience they shared that day, which I had not. It was a sobering reminder of at least the minor commitment to religion that many students at Georgetown have. I’ll admit that coming from a godless area of West Los Angeles, where the cultural fabric of America has long since been destroyed, I had never seen someone marked with ash on Ash Wednesday before I came to Georgetown. During my freshman year, I gazed at the first person I saw with soot on his forehead with genuine wonder and childlike curiosity. After the initial shock of seeing that every other face seemed to have the mysterious smudge (which I’m told clogs your pores) and the realization that there are more practicing Christians at Georgetown than I had imagined, I wondered how many people were encouraged to go to Mass because of pressure to get that Ash Wednesday “I Voted” sticker. I’m sure that the majority of students at Georgetown practice their religion in good faith and with honest piety, but please pardon my blasphemy when I wonder if there aren’t also a number of students at Georgetown (and beyond the front gates), who relish sporting their ash for the day. It shows that they are repenting and staying away from sin – and announces to the world that they’re dutiful Christians. Ultimately the sight of everyone around me having ash on their foreheads had no implications for me, and I in no way felt my environment was unfriendly or threatening. No one expected me to go to Mass. In my mind, it would be refreshing if people made meaningful sacrifices for Lent, instead of denying themselves trivial privileges they enjoy in the midst of their luxurious lifestyles. I can’t help but marvel at the potential good that could be achieved if the energy exerted towards sacrificing luxuries over the next 40 days was instead devoted to service and charity, but I guess that misses the essence of the holiday. In any case, over the next 40 days, people will be free to observe Lent on a personal level, as I believe religion should be observed. And, except for those who fast, as Lent was designed to be observed, there won’t be any visible marks to reward people for keeping with their Lent “resolutions.” Michael Weintraub is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. He can be reached at weintraubthehoya.com. The Penultimate Straw runs every other Friday.

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