Wednesday, March 5, 2014


Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.
All over the Latin Christian world those words are being repeated today.  They will be said to the Pope himself when he receives his ashes this afternoon at the Dominican Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill, the ancient stational church for this day. (The photo on the left is from the 6:45 a.m. English-language stational Mass at Santa Sabina on Ash Wednesday two years ago, at which I concelebrated  to begin my unique Roman experience of Lent.)
Ash Wednesday remains one of the most popular days in the Church's calendar - this in spite of the fact that we live in a therapeutic age which prizes comfort and feeling good about oneself and whose therapeutic mentality has radically infected everything (even religion). Yet somehow, Ash Wednesday with its sobering message of the reality of human limits and its solemn challenge to repentance still works, still cuts through the poisonous political platitudes and psychobabble of our age to speak spiritual truth against the power of self-love.

So popular has Ash Wednesday become that many Protestant Churches now also administer ashes on this day. In some cities, some churches offer "Ashes to Go," giving ashes outdoors to accommodate those too busy or otherwise reluctant to come to church. While undoubtedly well intentioned, such efforts may run the risk of trivializing something precious - its preciousness attested to by its continuing attractiveness. After all, ashes are not an end in themselves. The point of receiving ashes is to respond to the call to repentance, something we must overcome our routine busy-ness or reluctance for.

Today, the Church invites us to take an honest and critical look at ourselves - at where we are, where we are going, where we would like to be going, and how to get there.

And so the Church prays today: O God, who are moved by acts of humility and respond with forgiveness to works of penance, lend your merciful ear to our prayers and in your kindness pour out the grace of your blessing on your servants who are marked with these ashes, that, as they follow the Lenten observances, they may be worthy to come with minds made pure to celebrate the Paschal Mystery of your Son. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Fr. Ron, for your insightful reflection. Hope all is well with you.