"Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return"

Tom Bartolomeo
Ash Wednesday Ordinary C 2013b
Joel 2: 12-18; Psalm 51;
2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 2; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18
Reproduced with Permission

I can still remember as a small child receiving ashes on Ash Wednesday. I couldn't really comprehend the meaning of it, but I innately knew that it was important, and I was careful to not to remove my ashes from my forehead during the day. The next morning when I checked in the mirror the smudge was gone. How did I lose it, I thought.

I don't know if I appreciate fully the significance any better today the mark of ashes on my forehead. I do know it is my need for repentance. The syllable "re" before "repentance" means go back, return, renew, repent with regret. Start over when things get bad or are too confusing. Maybe that is why we are all here. All that from a simple sign, ashes or dust on our foreheads and remembering where we came from as recorded in the Book of Genesis, God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

In Biblical times before the birth of Christ the Jewish people repented often of their sinfulness with little understanding how they would be saved. At these times of stress and sorrow they would wear sackcloth and ashes over their entire bodies for several days. Were that all there was--we would not be here. Perhaps, we take our salvation much too much for granted. What matters today is that you will be signed with the sign of the cross and ashes--recalling Christ's death and resurrection from the dead, from a world of ashes. Isn't that why we are here? Not for ashes but "the Lamb of God . . . who takes away the sins of the world"?

Ashes is one of many signs we use to remind ourselves of our mortal condition, just as the sign of the cross is our hope beyond death. That is exactly what the Mass signifies, Christ risen from the dead and our guarantee of life everlasting if we choose to live our lives as true Christians. Christ paid dearly for our return to life through Him in the Mass. Now I don't need to tell you that this world is not heaven, often very much like hell, I think. Ashes, the remains of once living material remind us that we must pass through death to heaven through the Cross of Christ. There is no other way.

This Mass reminds us of that hope whereby God uses the signs of bread and wine which at Mass become the nourishment Christ alive in us on our journey to a life hereafter. "Take this, all of you" Christ will say at this Mass, "and eat of it ( the bread that I will raise for you to see ) "for this is my Body, which will be given up for you." And "Take this, all of you, and drink from it, for this is the chalice of my Blood . . . which will be poured out for you . . . for the forgiveness of sins." The sign of bread becomes the food of God and the sign of wine becomes the life-blood of God. If God, the Son of God, can become one of us, he certainly can become our food for everlasting life hidden in the form of bread and wine.

Unfortunately, this simple understanding of the Mass, the re-presentation of Christ's death and resurrection, is so often lost by many of us. Christ told us that he would redeem us from our sins-without whom we would become ashes forever. Only Christ can bring life back to us, body and soul. Somehow, however, we fixate too much on death and ashes and forget what Jesus wanted us to remember, Why he tells us at Mass - "Do this in memory of me." Follow me and I will raise you up from the dead from your own ashes.

We truly need to make a 'memory check' of where we are-right now. We're on Calvary at Mass beneath the cross witnessing his death with his Mother and his disciple, John. All the others were frightened away until his resurrection. Every time you come to Mass remember where you are, leave the chatter at home and all the other distractions which do not belong on Golgotha. We are in the Holy of Holies. Don't we know that? Come to his crucifixion, reverently, and leave the Holy of Holies, reverently, Calvary whose soil is moist with his blood.

We truly need to make a 'memory check' of where we are, to receive the life of Christ from his living body and blood, his wounded and glorified body. It is the Cross soiled with our ashes. Would we crawl up on the cross besides Jesus and take the place of the criminal who we are also and suffer and ask Christ, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom"? We truly need to make a 'memory check' of who we are, baptized into the death of Christ that we may live in Christ as Saint Paul reminded us, " it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me" ( Galatians 2:20 ) - if we remember by His Grace that we are meant to be his "temple of the Holy Spirit". If not, get your life back in that confessional back there. Is this our mind set or are we going to leave here with just a smudge on our foreheads? It should be enough to remind us everyday what his loyal Apostle John told his parishioners:

See what love the Father has bestowed on us
in letting us be called children of God!
Yet that is what we are.
Dearly beloved,
we are God's children now;
what we shall later be has not yet come to light.
We know that when it comes to light
we shall be like him
for we shall see him as he is
(1 John 3, 1-2 )