Ashes to ashes, dust to dust
That’s the title of some pop songs, the most notable of which was the one written by Dennis Lambert and performed by the 5th Dimension in 1973. It was a top hit with a catchy tune, though the lyrics definitely are not mainly religious in character. Rather it expresses angst over our tenuous and fragile human condition in this world.
Just the same, the song cannot help but borrow some religious expression that is at the fore and center of Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. Such is life. No matter how secular and worldly things can be, the religious sentiment would always manage to come out. Thus, I believe that there is always hope in life no matter how far south it falls from God.
Yes, it’s true that a constituent part of us came from ash and dust and that we would one day end up also there. But let’s never forget that there is also another constituent part of ours that is spiritual and as such is above the fate of our material condition.
These two components form one organic whole with the mortality of the material part taken up by the immortality of the spiritual part which is our soul. More than this, our spiritual soul, being rational and capable to being elevated to the supernatural order, actually originates from the Spirit of God, its creator, and is kept properly alive by that Spirit if we only freely connect ourselves with the Spirit.
What the celebration of Ash Wednesday and the whole season of Lent signifies is that our body and everything related to our material, temporal and earthly condition should be properly animated by the Spirit of God so that our bodily and earthly condition can also participate in the spiritual, supernatural and eternal life meant for us.
Given the condition of our body and everything related to it, we need to discipline and purify it so that it can enter into the spiritual and supernatural world. This point was articulated by Christ when he said: “The Spirit gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (Jn 6,63)
More graphically, Christ said regarding this point: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16,24-25)
Let’s try our best to take these words of Christ seriously, putting them into action especially during this season of Lent. We should be generous in going through the practices of prayer, fasting and abstinence, and the other means of self-denial and mortification, and works of mercy, since these are what Christ recommends and what the Church now encourages us to do. Let’s do them with all our heart, and not just out of compliance.
Let’s see to it that these practices would really give us the sensation that we are getting closer to Christ, that we are getting to be more and more like him, sharing his mind, his intentions and desires, his fate. Let’s be convinced that this is what is truly proper to us.
We need to realize more and more deeply that in this life, suffering and the need for purification are not only unavoidable but are first of all necessary, given the weakened, wounded and sinful condition of our humanity. If we go through them with Christ, assuming his attitude toward all this, then all our suffering would have a great redemptive value.
Let’s remember that the Lenten season is actually a happy season. It is like taking a shower with all the amenities given to make us truly clean and presentable to God and to everybody else. Yes, Lent is a season of smiles, of a great hope for an assured victory.