To Dust We Shall All Return
'Sorry,' she said, 'you had a little something on your forehead.' It happened so fast I hadn't time to react. She had wiped away the ash from my forehead. I explained that it was a sign of penitence or remorse for my sins and an acknowledgement of God's forgiveness. I helped her overcome her embarrassment by laughing with her about it. And I was pleased that I had a chance to explain this tradition in our church calendar.
Throughout the Old Testament there are references to people showing acts of penance before God, by dressing in sackcloth and either sitting or covering themselves in ash. The prophet Jeremiah calls for repentance of our sins this way: 'O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth and roll in the ashes.' (Jeremiah 6:26)
Ash Wednesday signifies our journey as we move from our lives as sinners to the baptismal font, where lies our salvation. Lent reminds us to acknowledge our sins and find our salvation through Christ. It also reminds us of our mortality: 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.'
As we follow the forty days of Lent, it is a time for us to reflect, to fast, and to focus on restoring our relationship with God. It's a time for us to use in clearing and renewing our spiritual home.
The young girl told me she 'did not go to church and is not religious.' As I have shared in these devotionals before; you do not need to be religious in order to be spiritual. Even in a secular environment, the season of Lent can be a time where we strive to make amends with family and friends, to offer apologies, and especially to acknowledge our own frailties, omissions, and wrongs.
The Gospel for Ash Wednesday offers us excellent advice on how we are to act during Lent by praying, fasting and giving alms. All of these are spiritual acts. Also, Jesus teaches us that these spiritual activities are to be done without seeking recognition from others. In other words, perhaps we're being encouraged to commit random acts of kindness.
Finally, we do not wear the ashes to suggest that we are holy, but to acknowledge that we are a community of sinners in need of God's forgiveness and in the renewal of our lives. Sadly, irony can be found, sometimes, in how many people attend services on the morning of Ash Wednesday. Let us pray that their presence is to acknowledge their sins and not to promote their piety.
And may your day today be full of a joy that you can share among others!
Posted for Fr Bill