Ash Wednesday: From Dust to Joy

13 Feb

Ash Wednesday: From Dust to Joy

On Ash Wednesday, Catholics all over the Twin Cities will receive ashes on our heads and hear this message: “you are dust and to dust you shall return.” More Catholics go to Mass on Ash Wednesday than on most Sundays or Holy Days. I have heard both Catholics and non-Catholics complain about this. Both seem to be pointing to hypocrisy and self righteousness amongst people who return once a year to this Mass. I wonder if either group understands the real mystery going to Mass on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is, in many ways, the saddest day of the year. The message: we are sinners and we are going to die. We try to keep death far from us by medication, exercise, and products to make us look younger, yet we gather to be reminded of something everyone already knows. Not only are we reminded of our sorry state, someone smears dirt on our foreheads while telling us. The day begins 40 days of fasting, based off of Jesus’ time in the wilderness and his rejection of Satan. Is this reason we fill churches, death, fasting, and fighting Satan?

In part, this is why. We all know that something is wrong not just with the world, not just with politics, but with us, with me. On Ash Wednesday, we finally recognize the time we did not help an elderly woman because we were in a rush. We remember the times when we have thought of a human person as a means to our own sexual gratification. We apologize for ignoring the poor and helpless. Above all we repent for the pride that keeps us from loving each other and God. We do this because we are reminded we are going to die.

But the truth is that despite the sorrow of Ash Wednesday, it is still a joyful day. Why are ashes on our foreheads and skipped meals a cause for happiness? Why should the thought of death and sin leave space for hope? Because, the Church offers us the truth that Ash Wednesday does not have the final word; that God does not leave us to the dust. On this penitential day, we still look to Easter and we know that our sins have been washed away, that death has been defeated, that the alleluia of the Church will never fail.

What should we do with this hope? Offer this season to Christ by fasting, praying, and almsgiving. Come back to Church for all of Lent. If you are already a churchgoer, invite others to join you. Don’t judge the people next to you at Mass; love them. Don’t be crushed by guilt; be freed by grace. This is Lent and this is our season of joy. It may hurt at times to think of death and sin, it may be painful to turn from sin and embrace those around us, but in the end the freedom of Jesus’ love is greater than dust and sin. We at The Heart of the Matter sincerely invite you to join us in repentance and grace. For truly, “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” We look forward to seeing you during Lent and to sharing the alleluia of Easter in 40 days.

-The Heart of the Matter

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