February 14, 2018
"Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return."
On Ash Wednesday, Catholics receive ashes in the shape of a cross traced on the forehead. The rite evokes Saint Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians: "For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive." (1 Corinthians 15: 21 - 22) Adam’s sin condemned man to sin and death. But the instrument of our salvation, the cross, reminds us that in Christ, man is redeemed and the gates of heaven are opened.
The original injunction conferring ashes: "Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return," contrasts with the words of the Nicene Creed concerning the Incarnation: "For us men and for our salvation, he [Jesus] came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man." In becoming man, Christ assumed our iniquities: offering himself as a supreme sacrifice in expiation for man’s sins. The forty days of Lent culminate on Easter Sunday. Christ’s joyous Resurrection fulfills God’s promise to save humanity and reveals our final destiny, if we persevere in love.
The Gospel chosen for Ash Wednesday reminds the follower of Christ “to be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see.” Our fasting, praying, and almsgiving are not about what others see or getting our names on plaques. The point of all of these activities is to stir up within the person a tremendous love for the Lord. Praying, fasting, and almsgiving are ultimately about time and space; it is in their practice that the disciple will find time and space for Christ.
Almighty Father, as we begin this Lent, give us the grace to be steadfast in our resolutions, drawing ever closer to you by means of our prayer and sacrifices. Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fervor this campaign of Christian service, so that, as we take up battle against spiritual evils, we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who reigns together with you, and with the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever. Amen.