As we enter into this season of Lent, crossing the threshold, if you will, we are called to remember that we are mere dust…a particle so small and insignificant on its own…a lifeless spec, void of blood and bones….
As the priest makes the smudge of a cross with black ashes on our foreheads, he whispers the words, “Memento, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris,” which translates into: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.” (this phrase is taken from the book of Genesis) With the humble acceptance of this action we are called to remember that without God, we have no breath…That without God we have no life…We live because He breathes His Life into each us.… He gives our matter, our physical form, its eternal depth… We are formed in His hands from the moment of our conception… before then, even…”Before I formed you in your mother’s womb, I knew you,” ( Jeremiah 1:5) Ash Wednesday reminds us that it is because of God that we have life, and without Him, we have nothing… We are nothing.
Today is a reminder to the Faithful, that even though we are made of dust… formed out of the sin of Adam, marked with the stain of our first parents… with Christ, we have been redeemed. Through no merit of our own, we have been saved. We are reminded that because of God’s goodness… God’s unfathomable mercy…. we have been transformed. And now, with the promise of God’s salvation, we need to understand that there is more to us than our flesh and bones … Sure, our bodies shall return to dust when we die, because once they are empty, they belong to the earth…. but our souls…our souls… they belong to God!
As the first day of this period of Lent, Ash Wednesday is the perfect way to begin this healing of our souls. With these forty days the Church has given us guidelines…a perimeter of sorts… with fasting, penance, prayers and alms giving. These coming days before Easter should be marked with conversion. We need to put ourselves back on track. We need to use this time as a means of mending and repairing any damage we may have done by becoming comfortable with sin. A sure way to remove this comfort is by fasting and doing penance. Throughout the centuries the saints have understood the importance of fasting and depriving themselves of physical satisfactions. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Fasting and abstinence strengthens our spirit as it mortifies our flesh and our sensuality. It raises our soul to God.”
This detachment from material goods, and this purposeful time of prayer, helps purify us from our sins…When we remove these distractions…we are more apt to find God. And when we do, we are likely to find that perhaps there is no better proof of love…True Love…than a smudge of black ashes in a cross on our foreheads… a visible sign to the world, that yes, there is a God…who came and died for us because He loves us very much.