SEASON OF LENT 2012
Reflection for Ash Wednesday
(22 February 2012)
(Joel 2: 12-18, 2 Cor 5: 20-6:2, Mt 6:1-6, 16-18)
‘From Ashes to Life’
Ashes are what one is reduced to finally one day, the residue after a fi re or burning. When a dedicated social worker who spent his life to build the lives of the poor died recently, he requested that his body be cremated and ashes to be strewn in the sea, so that he may not have any material thing worthwhile on this earth. Ashes thus resemble what is worthless, unwanted and destroyed. Today, when we apply such ashes on our fore-heads, we remind ourselves who we truly are; admitting our broken, worthless, sinful situation. Ash Wednesday is also a day that reminds us of our beginning, the beginning from dust and the end of our earthly sojourn which turns our body back into dust. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return”.
All human beings, according to our Christian vision of life, have such a beginning and such an end in God. Ash Wednesday reminds us of this reality. It also invites us to stop and go deeper into the “desert” of our hearts to reflect, pray and do penance for forty days. This is to find out the truth of our lives. Who we really are? What are we doing with our lives? Where are we heading? We can have three different “persons” in us. I as the “person known to the world” or what others know of me; I as the “person known to me” or the awareness I have about me: and finally I as a “person known to God” or who I am before God. The knowledge in the first two can be erroneous but it is only God who really knows who we really are. Ash Wednesday and the forty consequent days are to find out that truth about ourselves.
In the hustle and bustle of the modern day society and life, our structures and systems, our responsibilities and regulations and our problems and pre-occupations may not leave time or space to reflect about nature, to come into contact with the divine or to maintain a prayerful relationship with God. But we may have become busy-bodies like the “hypocrites” in today’s Gospel where many things were done to be seen by others: to boost the image of “the person known to the world.” Whenever there are elections in the country, we have enough examples of such people.
Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday, has traditions from the Old Testament too, when people were invited to atone for their sins through penance, wearing sack-cloth. They were to fast and complete the fast with works of charity (Isaiah 58:1-12). Today, we too can go through this “spiritual cleansing process” if we enter into the forty days after applying Ashes on our foreheads and to begin the purification and sanctification of our hearts and souls. It’s a time to think and work for others and to give up our ego and selfishness.
Our selfishness, this cause of all evil, damages us, our relationship with the world, with our neighbours and with our God. It is evident in the world how the natural selfishness of humanity that is a legacy of our nature afflicts all men and women at all times. A few examples are:
- The unresolved global economic and financial crisis, caused by the liberalist market economy. The Vatican’s Justice and Peace Council calls it as characterized by “selfishness, collective greed and the hoarding of goods on a great scale.” The idolatry of the market, profit without ethics, have caused this economic chaos which affects poorer nations the worst.
- National issues that remain unresolved due to feet-dragging or lessons-never-learnt attitude, is causing the poorer sections and those affected by war to linger on, suffering without a light at the end of the tunnel. Lack of political will and solution causes delay in real people-centred development. Selfishness and greed abounding in decision-making make a few richer and many poorer.
- When it comes to our commitments in family life, our selfishness can raise its head when we think only of our comfort, our opinion or our indulgence or profit. When we break the promises we made for a life time that can make us blind to the fact that the spouses and children were entrusted to us to be looked after and nurtured. Broken families, neglected and orphaned children, unhappiness and guilt will be the result of such selfishness.
God was able to breathe life into the dust and give life to man. Lent is a time to go to the Lord, the Creator and plead with Him to once again turn our “dust or ashes” into a life of grace.
Rev. Fr. Elmo Dias