You are Going to Die – An After Ash Wednesday Reflection

Maryanne Pope (7th Birthday) Nancy Pope Nancy Geiman in 1967
Maryanne Pope (7th Birthday) Nancy Pope Nancy Geiman in 1967

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:

  1. Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart …
  2. Sound the trumpet in Zion!
  3. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God!
  4. 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.

10 Replies to “You are Going to Die – An After Ash Wednesday Reflection”

  1. At the last, will Our Lord see anything of Himself in me?

    “It is contact with the Divine Being that will make me holy and spotless in His eyes.”
    -St. Elizabeth of the Trinity

  2. The line that has stayed with me was from the second reading – “we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain”. God has given and continues to give us so much; graces and talents that we can use to do his work on earth, to live in ways pleasing to Jesus, to treat others as he would have….and yet we waste so much through sin, sloth, and misguided priorities. I shock myself at times with my own abilities to let his gifts slip through my hands like sand.

    Lent can be a great time to be thankful for God’s gifts, assess our lives in light of them, and consider ways to apply them toward God’s purposes. I believe that even small changes are pleasing to God – and can lead to bigger, more fundamental ones.

    1. well said Jamie. we all rue those talents that we waste and I often wonder if the regret that we later have will be part of the pain of purgatory– assuming we are even get there.

  3. Your best post yet, Msgr.! I love how you show the photo and that no one and nothing in it is still around.

    I know that I will meet God sooner than I probably think. I have to prepare for Him, but the world at large seems to try to convince us that we will be here forever.

    Your posts are always reality checks. 🙂

  4. At the evening Mass yesterday, my pastor commented that he marked an older woman with ashes yesterday (“remember you are dust…”) at morning Mass, then a few hours later received a call that she was in the hospital. He went to visit her. The doctors said she is almost certainly going to die. It was a very vivid example of the passing nature of this life.

  5. “(S)o that your soul stands a chance…..”

    Monsignor, these are sobering words. Thank you for this wonderful piece. It’s a keeper, and I will be meditating upon your wise counsel today.

  6. Very powerful and sobering photo and story. Reminiscent, somewhat, of the scene from “Dead Poets Society,” when, incidentally, the character played by Robin Williams points his students to the pictures of those on the wall who are “…food for worms.” Robin is no longer with us. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.

    Tempus fugit. Memento mori. As I applied ashes to the forehead of my five year old daughter on Wednesday, the life-death connection struck me significantly. Her smile was beaming. But I was a bit shaky. Quite a meditation on mortality.

  7. My favorite reminder about life is “The longer a candle burns, the shorter it gets” Such is the story of life.

  8. I merely echo the comments of others in saying that I find this a moving and powerful post, especially the paragraph about the photograph. God bless you Msgr.

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