Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday: To Dust you shall Return

Last Sunday, I listened as a priest blessed a group of catechumins. He was speaking about their preparation time before coming into full communion with the Universal Church on Easter. He spoke about how "exciting" and "joyful" a time this was for them and all of us, but somehow the tone he had was one more of trying to convince us all of something than actual joy.

I've heard this tone before and it seems it is always in church that I hear it. I couldn't imagine a birthday party, for example, where the host would feel a need to explain to the children that cake is a good thing and something we should anticipate with true excitement. No, children don't need to be told to like cake, they just like it. They see the cake and they want it. It's that simple.

The spiritual life, however, isn't so simple. We really do need to be told to seek what is truly good for us. Spiritual goods, unlike material goods, are difficult to see and understand and because of our fallen nature, we do not desire them as we should.

As Christians, however, we know that the whole material world is coming to an end. We remind ourselves on Ash Wednesday that you and I and every created thing is returning to the dust from whence it came. It is all dust and is all meaningless vanity unless it somehow helps us to obtain spiritual benefit because only the spiritual life is everlasting. We also know that though we appreciate material goods less once we have obtained them, we only begin to enjoy the riches and beauty of the spiritual realm once we have started down its felicitous paths.

During the season of Lent that leads up to Easter, we try with particular earnestness to "reinvest" ourselves in this spiritual life we believe in and know. We practice fasting and abstinence especially from those material goods we so naturally desire, but that distract us from the higher, lasting goods that are more difficult to appreciate. We invest our funds in alms, detaching ourselves from wealth, hoping to help our neighbor and learn charity along the way. And we invest our time and our hearts in prayer, seeking a closer union with God, the source of every blessing and the substance of eternal life.

May you and your families have a very blessed, grace filled journey through Lent toward Easter.