At Ash Wednesday Masses we heard the ancient acclamation, as ashes are imposed, Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
The beginning of the Lenten season puts before us an urgent plea that we should be sober and watchful of our soul and its condition, for the form of this world is passing away (1 Cor 7:31).
Simply put, we are going to die and we need to be made ready to meet our God. Recall some of the urgency present in the readings:
- Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart …
- Sound the trumpet in Zion!
- We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!
- Behold, now is the day of salvation.
Yes, now, not later. There is an urgency announced that we must hear and heed.
What’s in a picture? The picture at the upper right was taken April 2, 1967. It was my sister, Mary Anne’s 7th birthday. On Ash Wednesday morning, the picture appeared on my screen-saver slideshow and I thought, “There it is; a picture of passing things.” For as you look at the picture know this, there is absolutely nothing and no one in the picture that is still here in this world today. My sister, who is blowing out the candles, died tragically in a fire in 1991. My mother, who is leaning over her, died in 2005 (also tragically). My maternal grandmother, who is sitting, died of cancer in the late 1970s. But that is not all. The building in which the picture was taken was demolished 8 years ago. My father, who is taking the picture, died in 2007. The Polaroid camera with which he took the photo is long gone as well. There is simply nothing in this picture that any longer exists in this world, and there is no one in the photo who still walks this earth. Yes, the form of this world is passing away. Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.
The Church’s reminder to us is a strong rejoinder to most of our priorities. Most of the things we think are so important are not really all that important in the long run. Most of the things that claim our attention are not all that critical either. Like Martha of the Bible, we are anxious about many things. We worry about our money, our house, our car, our physical health, how we look, what people think of us, and so forth. But none of this really matters all that much in the end. All these things pass.
But what about what really does matter? What of our soul and its well-being? What of our direction? Is it heavenward? What are we doing with our life? Where are we headed? Do we know, love, and serve God? Are our eyes on the prize of God and Heaven? These things garner little attention in most people’s lives. The unessential and fleeting things are our passion, while the most essential things are all but ignored.
During Lent, the Church says, “Stop.” Be thoughtful and earnest. You are going to die. What are you doing to get ready to meet God? Your body and the things of this world are but dust, a mere passing reality. But what of your soul? Are you caring for your soul? Is it nourished on God’s Word and Holy Communion? Are the medicines of prayer, Scripture, Sacraments, and holy fellowship (cf Acts 2:24) being applied so that your soul stands a chance?
Remember … REMEMBER … you are dust; you are going to die. Get ready. Now is the time; be earnest about it. Be thoughtful; reflect, considering carefully what your decisions amount to, where you are headed, and what your life means. Too many people live unreflected lives, never thinking much on these things. But not you. You have heard the trumpet sound in Zion and the Church has implored you. Will you listen? Will I? Where are you going? Where will you be when the last trumpet sounds?
Immutemur habitu in cinere et cilicio; jejunemus, et ploremus ante Dominum, quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra Deus noster.
Let us change our garments for ashes and sackcloth; let us fast and lament before the Lord, for our God is plenteous in mercy to forgive our sins.