A few years ago a deacon pal and I were discussing ashes. He was helping to distribute them for the first time in his parish and was trying to decide if he would use the old smudge-formula, “Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return,” or if he would forego that for the “new, improved, feel-good” formula, “Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel.”
I could only tell him that I didn’t need to be treated like a delicate flower with some benign advice about believing the Gospel. “If we’re Christians and we’re there receiving ashes, isn’t it pretty much a given that we’re already believing the Gospel? No, please, say it the old way - it’s a pithy reminder that we should ask ourselves - if we die tomorrow - have we been living our lives to right purpose? We hear nothing but happy platitudes about our specialness from the rest of the world (and too many lecterns) every single day. For this one day, let us face some cold, hard truth.”
He wrote me the other day that he remembered that conversation and that this year he will be reminding people that they are dust…I’m glad.
We need to hear it from time to time, that no matter what we do we’re going to die.
Ash Wednesday is a good time to take a look at how we’re living our lives, which are over quickly. Are we fully living the lives for which God loved us into being, or just treading water waiting for the next wave?
How are we managing our time and talents? Are we fully utilizing the gifts with which we (every one of us) were born? Are we sharing them, being generous with them?
What about the rest of our time - the few weeks or decades we have left? Maybe you haven’t murdered anyone this week, but have you been indulging in some so-called “innocent gossip” at work today? Is that what you were born for?
Have you been sitting at your computer for four hours tapping out one vile word after another in an unstoppable seizure of hate for anyone with whom you disagree? Is that the purpose for which you were begotten - loved into being?
Have you been slacking off at home, taking people for granted? Is that what you do with the love that has been given to you?
Seen in the light of eternity our lives are mere momentary blips, little flashes here and gone, noted only by the Eternal, who waits for our return, who says, “come back to me, with all your heart…” (Hosea 14:2-10).
Today, we acknowledge that we are finite, that we will not last, and that all of our fusses and furies won’t matter much, really, in the end. But our love - how much we have loved, or how little - that will define us, both in this life and the next.
In a world and an era where humility is for losers, we take a little time to let ourselves be humbled. And in that humility, we find some commonality, and perhaps inspiration to do better - to work on ourselves a bit - and to seek reconciliation where we can.
Friday, February 23, 2007
Posted by Matthew
At Ash Wednesday Mass I didn't hear the traditional "Remember, man dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return" when I received my ashes. Instead I heard the new, modern option: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel." I personally prefer the old, traditional method since Lent is an appropriate time to remind me of my coming death and a need to be prepared to die in grace. Today I found this excerpt and felt it would be appropriate to share:
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