One week ago, Holy Mother Church reminded us that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. In doing this, she sprinkled our heads with ashes made from last year’s palms. The ashes are therefore the produce of fire, but they are used with words that remind us of the dust of the earth. Why do we not just use dirt on Ash Wednesday? It’s hard to say, but one of the reasons might be that ashes came through fire, their substance was burnt in the flames in order to produce this “dust”. Why is that relevant? Perhaps because, as St Peter reminds us:
The day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence and the elements shall be melted with heat and the earth and the works which are in it shall be burnt up. Seeing then that all these things are to be dissolved, what manner of people ought you to be in holy conversation and godliness?Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of the Lord, by which the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with the burning heat?But we look for new heavens and a new earth according to his promises, in which justice dwelleth (2 Pt 3:10-13).
If this be so, then the use of ashes at the beginning of Lent not only serves the purpose of reminding us that we shall return to dust through the rot of the grave, but also that the world as we know it will come to an end throug fire, a universal conflagration that will dissolve the universe. Will this come about by direct divine intervention or will God use a meteorite or some other heretofore unsuspected catastrophe? Or will it be man himself who destroys the planet through the technology he is no longer able to control? Whatever the case, it will all go up in flames.
So what purpose is served by living as if this were not so? As if we were to remain here forever? It is high time we came to our senses, and lived with the parsimonious wisdom of people who know they are not owners, but only tenants, and that they will have to give an account of their every thought word and deed when it all comes to an end.
Such thoughts are austere, for sure, but they are salvific. We must look the truth in the face, not just once in a blue moon, but every day. If we do, our life will be much more peaceful, for it will be much more true. Salvation and peace and come only from and through truth.
If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be (Isaiah 30:15)