Readings: Joel 2: 12-18; II Cor. 5:20-6:2; Matt. 6: 1-6; 1-18.
There is much focus nowadays on the environment and our relationship to it. While much of this is framed in apocalyptic terms which induce endless hand-wringing with a sense not only of impending doom but of human powerlessness. And who needs that? So many ignore any discussion of how we, as humans, relate to the environment. But Ash Wednesday offers us a stark and seldom discussed way in which humanity is linked to the world, namely through our mortality.
No one wants to spend much time pondering the fact that death is inevitable for each of us (as a famous self-help book once put it ‘no one gets out alive’) and this is understandable for doing so makes many feel depressed, hopeless, and meaningless.
But Ash Wednesday is not about forcing us to stew in these negative and destructive emotions. It is a celebration with many layers, interconnected and crucial to recognize. First, the ashes and somber liturgy reminds us that all of us will one day die and give an account of our life. Second, closely related, is that we are not separate from the material world but joined to it (“remember you are dust and unto dust, you shall return’). Third, that as Christians life is not an existential black hole with meaningless suffering and random events but an adventure in loving and living the Gospel. In the end, life is not about extinction but further dimensions of life eternal after death. Fourth, Ash Wednesday is normally celebrated communally in church surrounded by others. We are not in this adventure of life alone but surrounded and accompanied by the entire Church (living and long since departed). Lastly, perhaps wrapping up the other four aspects of this day is introspection. We are called to look into our own hearts to see how we can deepen our relationship with God, remove sin from our lives and be more compassionate to those who suffer. Church calls us to do this through prayer, fasting, and donations to the poor.
So, Ash Wednesday is a feast that calls us to reflect on an uncomfortable fact and encourages us to ask how we can convert ourselves more deeply to living the Gospel. What a wonderful opportunity we have today!
Mission Doctors are painfully aware of how fragile our bodies can be, threatened by a multitude of diseases that spring from nature. Please support the healing work of these doctors through prayer, fasting, and donations during this Lenten season.
God bless you and have a wonderful Lent