Today is Ash Wednesday the beginning of the season of Lent. Many reflections come to my mind in particular the humility we should aspire to live by.
During Ash Wednesday, we receive the ashes as a sign of repentance, humility and reminder of our finite existence on Earth. The use of ashes is not new and can be found in Sacred Scripture: Esther 4:1
, Job 42:6
and Daniel 9:3
The ashes remind us of our state in this world. “We are dust and to dust we shall return
” which comes from Genesis 3:19
. It is a reminder that we are not an end in ourselves. Our lives, our successes, our education, in a word; our entire being returns to dust and ashes after death. All that we were or could have been is reduced to a pile of ashes. The whole thought is humbling. The very word ‘humbling’ comes from ‘humility.’ The word ‘humility’ comes from ‘humus’ which means ‘dirt, soil or ashes from the Earth.’ The ashes placed on us should remind us of humility. It should remind us that eventually we will die and that life should be well spent, so to speak.
We do not have all the time in the world so we must make good use of it in order to try our best to follow God’s will. As Ecclesiastes 3:1-2
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;”
God will call each one of us in due time. We will face judgement immediately after death as Hebrews 9:27 tells us, and there is no attorney nor can we make use of any alibi. It is important that we try to do God’s will and not waste our lives on sin and other vices that give the illusion of happiness or joy. Like the quote from the classic movie, “A Bronx Tale” written by Chazz Palminteri states: “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” We all have the talents necessary along with God’s grace in order to live a virtuous life and grow spiritually. Ash Wednesday and Lent should remind us of this.
The ashes remind us of our finite state in this world. The fasting and abstaining from meat remind us that we can give up anything in order to grow spiritually, even sustenance. This shouldn’t be a burden for ‘man does not live by bread alone, but by the Word of God.
” (Matthew 4:4
As an atheist, existentialism was part of my frame of mind which states that all rests on the individual – we are an end in ourselves. Ash Wednesday added to my way of thinking. It reminded me that I am not an end in myself. My intellectual reasoning ability, my knowledge, my talents etc eventually will dissipate as I take my last breath. This allowed me to consider that there has to be more to life, this couldn’t be it on Earth. However, this is a topic for another blog post.
Unfortunately, some Catholics rely on the external aspect of days like Ash Wednesday. The “A&P Catholic
s” come to church on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday out of ‘duty’ or false piety and not a genuine search for God and discipline to grow more in Him. Like the Pharisees, they do not internalize the symbolism behind the sacramentals given on Ash Wednesday and Palm Sunday. Faith cannot become a mere “duty” or “obligation.” It must be a way of life.
I hope you attending Ash Wednesday Mass today or if you receive ashes during a service that you remind yourself that we must be humble. We must remember that we are indeed ‘dust and to dust we shall return.’ Nothing will change this. No advancements in science or medicine will make death a thing of the past. The ashes should remind us that the hour glass is slowly emptying and that we must make every effort to use every precious second to grow spiritual in God’s grace. We will fall along the way, but God will help us get back up.
You can read more on Ash Wednesday here: