“Remember you are dust; and into dust you shall return.” That little mantra sure is the showstopper of Ash Wednesday: and it really is enough to slow us down a little even into the ensuing days of Lent. We don’t always like to think about our mortality.
Everyday that goes by, every commercial on television, ads in magazines and newspapers indicate that we are somehow immortal. Sound bites and commercial minutes teach us that we can defy the clock and even cheat death. Such is the case in a relativist world, like the one in which we live, where there is no other reality than the one we conjure for ourselves.
Lent, however, begins with a clear and sobering vision of reality. We are reminded that we are not so big and immortal as we may think. Lent is not a time to frighten us into submission; but rather a time to call us to limitless truth and even more, subtle imagination. We begin by opening our own minds and hearts to something beyond ourselves.
That is, and always has been, for humanity a great moment of awakening. There is something beyond me. It is a moment of truth for the child who starts to reach out and grasp and touch, coming to the awareness of a world that exists around him or herself. Growth and maturation follow, in their appropriate order most times. But if we never grow beyond ourselves; if our boundaries are never stretched to include others; our world never becomes inclusive of the possibilities beyond “me” – O my, what a sadness is that!
The sadness of life lived in an abode of isolation, surrounded with bogus securities and illusory treasures, is not the true measure of human life and certainly not the plan that God has envisioned for us.
So, we need to come to the awareness that there is something beyond ourselves.
With the awareness of the something, comes an awareness of someone. If we are not made to live in miserable selfishness, then we are not made to be miserably lonely. There is someone who fills us with a profound sense of being loved and accepted and cared for.
Yes, we do find those people in our lives and, if we are aware enough we may fall in love. The gift of a creative and generative love between a man and a woman is another part of our human dimension. Human love always gives us glimpses into the reality of the Love of God.
Our Lenten reflection, at this point, must remain a personal attempt on the part of the human soul to go beyond itself and find the spiritual other who offers a complete sense of personal fulfillment and completion. That can only come from God.
I noted above that Lent is not a time to frighten us, but rather a time to call us to limitless truth and beyond that, subtle imagination.
Falling in love with God is a most incredible experience. It has been described as falling off a cliff and, while falling, enjoying the experience of flying. No fear, only delight. We’re not going to get hurt – nothing can harm us, nothing can hurt us. We are his and he loves each of us indescribably.
But wait, yes, we can describe it. It is the force of Lent – it is a love to the death. Not our death, but his death. His love for us takes him to the deepest darkest pits of hell to battle with the Evil One who would try to make us live in isolation, content with tawdry trinkets, unaware of the Love that could save us.
This is where our remembrance of our mortality comes in. We need to remember, each day, that we are loved beyond ourselves. We are created by God for heaven and it is Jesus, who by his Passion, death, and glorious Resurrection has opened the way for us. We are more than this pale existence of life. While there is so much in this world that attracts us to charm and beauty, curiosity and intelligence, happiness and sentiment; we cannot lose sight for a moment, that none of it endures forever. Scripture reminds us that “charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting.” (Prov 31:30)
It may be time that we enter deeply into Lent. Striving to move into a true relationship with Jesus Christ. We can open the doors of our hearts to let him in and rejoice in his presence. We can be reassured that when pain and suffering come – even when we offer ourselves to that pain and suffering in our own sacrificial giving – we cannot outdo what Jesus has already done for us. Grace is his gratuitous and lavish gift. It is a gift he will never take back or cancel. It’s a very clear thought about an old question from our catechism days. Q. “What did God make you?” A. “God made me to show forth his goodness and love, for me to know, love, and serve him in this world, and be happy with him in the next.”
It’s a very short life. You must remember that this is not where it ends. You are dust, into dust you shall return … but these bones are gonna rise again! Use Lent well. You don’t know when you are going back to dust.