From Ashes to Easter

2024년 2월 18일

From Ashes to Easter

< First Sunday of Lent >

 I grew up in Amsterdam, N.Y., a small town in Upstate New York on the Mohawk River. I attended public school. My fifth grade teacher was very anti-Catholic and never missed an opportunity to talk smack against the Church. Back in those days, teachers could say whatever they wanted. There wasn’t much we Catholic students could do but suffer in silence. Until Ash Wednesday! I got up early and went to Mass before school began. I proudly wore my cross of ashes on my forehead. Now it was my teacher’s turn to suffer in silence. Twenty years later when I went to Korea as a Missioner priest, I was surprised when, on Ash Wednesday, many of my parishioners wiped the ashes off their foreheads before they got back to their pews! I guess it’s cultural. In America, if you see someone with ashes on their forehead, it means this person is probably Catholic. In Korea, it means this person forgot to wash their face.

Of course, a cross of ashes on one’s forehead means I–and you–are mortal and, unlike other animals, we know we are going to die someday, for “we are dust and unto dust we shall return.” Most of the year, indeed, most of our lives we fill up our waking hours with activities, material things and noise to prevent us from thinking about death. Jesus went into the desert precisely to confront the temptation to forget we are mortal beings, doomed to die. Lent reminds us of this, but also invites us to think about what we are going to do with the brief time God has given us to live. Everything we own will one day belong to someone else or will be thrown away. All our degrees and awards will be forgotten. What lasts after death is love, for love is of God and God IS love. How we treat one another–especially the poor, the sick, the oppressed, the weak– lasts forever for it builds the kingdom of God. God fashioned us from the Earth, and the Earth came from the stars. Yes, we are made of dust. STARDUST!  Lent invites us to concentrate on things that really matter. And if we live and die with faith in Christ, one day we too will rise from the dead and live with Christ, and the saints, and one another, forever.