"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return"
A Catholic author once wrote, “Fear of death is not fear of the the unknown, you cannot fear something you do not know. Rather fear of death is the fear of the loss of the known.” This is the lesson to get from Ash Wednesday It can be ominous to go before the person who is distributing ashes and be reminded of your own death. There may be a good homily reiterating that you will eventually die and that the world that we know will exist without you in it. This can be disconcerting about how we will be separated from our loved ones. The loss of the known sends fear throughout our body. Leaving things is not the hard part leaving people is difficult.
It’s is the fear of loss of the know that can be a stumbling block to accepting our other citizenship. Our true citizenship is in Heaven and Christ has promised to prepare us a mansion when we arrive. The one thing that can get us past this fear is living out our Lent. Taking an active role in the 40 days to draw closer to God in prayer and sacrifice. A spiritual house cleaning if you will. This is different than the Advent anticipation of the Christ child, this is preparing to follow the savior as he opens the gates of heaven to us by dying on the Cross for YOU. He didn’t die for a anonymous collective humanity, he dies for you individually.
To get past the fear of the loss of the known. We have to change our mindset about what the known is. This life is temporary and we need of focus on long term (eternal) goals. We have to have an understanding of where we want to go and a map of how to get there. Our spiritual road map is the Bible, open it up and understand what God has promised us.
In the Catholic church we have an abundance of writing of the saints. Some more accessible than others, but all can be grown into. If you have never had any exposure to reading writing of the saints Lent is a good time to start. Starting with Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, it is timeless and accessible. Lesser know is Maurice and Therese: The Story of a Love which is an excellent book of correspondence between St. Therese and a young missionary. (A future blog post I will compose a list of my favorite writing of the saints and the accessibility to readers.)
So giving up your candy, your facebook, your ipad is all well and good but what are you going with that sacrifice. Are you going to give candy money to the poor, are you going to fill your Facebook time with spiritual reading? A deacon once said in a homily, “We have time to do anything we WANT to do”. So what do you want to do? We should want to get to heaven more than thing else because that is all that we have. If we fail in that goal nothing else matters.
You “job” in life is to get to heaven and try and get as many other people there with you as you can. Nothing else matters in life, everything else will fall away and turn to dust. In striving for heaven we strive to lose the known. We become detached from the things of the world, all of the things that we know. We seek to lose the world so that there is only heaven and that this world will not matter to us.
With Heaven on our hearts we can stand firmly to receive ashes, we know there is nothing to fear about losing this world but so much to be gained in the next. So we respond to “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” not in fear or dread but a resounding, firm and joyful “Amen!”