“Remember that you’re dust ,and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19),the priest had said to me, and to other lay faithfuls who had queued at the foot of the alter to receive ashes on their foreheads. “What a phrase…?”,i had thought,presumably a popular one,yet embodies often neglected truth and significance. The fact that we are sojourners on this planet earth is an indisputable fact which needs more emphasis else we would be distracted by the fleeting pleasures of this very earth and leave our hope of eternal glory at bay. Man, a three-part-being is made up of a spirit and a soul,both living in a body. But when the body(e.i dust) expires,it returns back to the earth,while the spirit and the soul return to God. Hence a solemn call to utmost humility,repentance,restitution and ultimately salvation is paramount in the life of every Christian.
Just a week ago,precisely,on Wednesday,the 10th of February,2016;the Church (Catholic) all over the world commemorated the Ash Wednesday(neither a feast nor a solemnity)but a day of obligation, which is very significant in the life of every catholic faithful,because it marks the beginning of lent.
A very symbolic substance – Ash which is obtained from the burning of the palms used previously during the Solemnity of the Triumphant Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem,also known as Palm Sunday(usually a Sunday before Easter) is used on Ash Wednesday. The issuance of ash takes the place of the penitential rite,as it is deliberately omitted during the Mass for Ash Wednesday .
Ash is applied on the foreheads of the Catholic faithfuls on Ash Wednesday as a reminder of man’s mortality on earth;the nothingness of man! Our journey on earth is simply temporary,and when that journey ends,the body returns to the dust where it came from. However,other biblical symbolic use of Ash include:
- As a sign of grief : Second Samuel 13:19 records an account of a young lady-Tamar who was raped by her brother Amnon ,she put ashes on her head as a sign of deep grief.
- Sign of Mourning for our sins as recorded in the book of the Prophet Jeremiah 6:26
- A Sign of Repentance from our crocked and sinful ways of life(Job 42:6).
Lent begins with Ash Wednesday,a forty days journey with Jesus ;which mirrored Jesus’ forty days fasting and prayer in the garden of Gethsemane,in preparation for His ultimate sacrifice-‘death on the cross, for the salvation of mankind‘. A forty days journey before Easter,a journey of fasting,alms-giving,abstinence,prayer(like never before, and certainly not like the hypocrites do ,but as recorded in the Gospel of Mathew 16:17_18). A journey which is also observed in the Ways of the Cross or the Stations of the Cross. A journey,not like the Isrealites’ whose forty days journey turned to forty years journey ,because of their disobedience and stubbornness,but one by His grace,will bring us back to God through repentance,restitution,reconciliation ,reformation and renewal of life.
Repentance is a daily journey ,and lent avails one a very special opportunity to return back to God in humility and sincerity of heart. The predominant message of lent is a ‘Call to return back to God’ as can be seen in Joel 2:12-18. A call to begin a new life of grace,purity,sanctity,a new life of holiness and peace with God and human.
It’s been a week since Lent begun,how has your journey with Jesus been? There is a myth about the eagle:when an eagle attains about thirty years of age,its health condition deteriorates,to the point that survival becomes difficult.Its talons lose their flexibility and can not properly grip its prey,its beak becomes blunt and bent,its feathers grow thick and heavy and impairs flexible and balanced flight. But the eagle doesn’t surrender to weakness or death,rather it retreats to the mountaintop for a period of five months,where it sharpens its beak against a rock,plucks it talons and feathers for a regrowth. All these the eagle does to enable a longer life span and better flight. What are you plucking off in the course of this forty days journey,and what value(s)/moral do you wish to renew? These are crucial questions to ask ourselves in sincerity of hearts as we journey with Christ in this Lenten period,in preparation for Easter.
The Grace to lent sincerely and diligently like never before,and as You would wish us to ,we pray Thee oh Lord,Amen.🙏