Remember and Move On
by Father Clement Paul, O.P.
The Season of Lent begins on a negative note. On Ash Wednesday, when the ashes are distributed
the Celebrant says, 'Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return'.
No wonder Lent for many people is a time of doom and gloom.
The very depressing formula sets the tone for the season for many.
Those words always troubled me. While I could tolerate the fact that I am 'dust',
it is not flattering to be told that I shall return to dust. Perhaps the author of that once well-known Poem, 'A Psalm of
Life', had the same problem and so wrote: 'Dust thou art, to dust returnest was not spoken of the
soul'. The alternative formula tries to be positive but is not much better: 'Turn away from
sin and be faithful to the Gospel'.
I invite us to approach this Lent as time to 'remember'
who we are in the sight of God rather than what we are. To 'remember'
is a preoccupation of most religious believers and Bible personalities. Even God is said to
'remember' (Genesis 19:29). God remembers Abraham. The Patriarchs
and Prophets continually call on the People to 'remember'. Lent
is the Church's call to us to remember the relationship God established with us, to
evaluate that relationship and do what is necessary to deepen it.
In remembering that we are dust and to dust we shall return, we are not to stop there. We are to move on so that we too can share in the
Victory of Life over the finality of death. I feel that it would be expedient if the Ash
Wednesday rite could now read: 'Remember you are dust and to dust you will return, so turn away from sin and be
faithful to the Gospel'.
The reference to dust, though saying that we are 'earthy' and will return to the
earth by way of burial, is incomplete. The very creation story, though saying that we are made from the soil, also says that
God breathed into the 'earthy being' the Breath of Life, and the
being became a Living Soul (cf. Genesis 2:7). We are therefore 'earthy'
but also 'divine', for the very breath we breathe is God's.
Lent is therefore to be taken not as a period of doom and
gloom, but as a Journey in which we gratefully strive to deepen our relationship with our God.
Many people continue to identify more with Good Friday than Easter, which shows that the
Victory of Easter is still not yet fully grasped. The Season of Lent and
Easter is meant to call to our minds that our sinfulness, caused more often than not because of
'earthiness', need not have the final say in our relationship with God.
God has already Won the Victory for us over the consequence of
sin which is death.
As we enter into the season therefore, let us in 'remembering' use the
forty days to work on our relationship with our God. Let us do so through meaningful
Prayer and positive Sacrifice. I say positive Sacrifice
because people tend to see Sacrifice as a negative or gloomy
exercise. Gerald Vann O.P., in his book The Son's Course, writes:
we think of [sacrifice] as something painful, repulsive,
something which has to be done but which we do not pretend to like; we forget the idea of
a sacrificium laudis, a sacrifice of praise and joy ... Who has ever found it repulsive to
make sacrifices for someone he loves deeply?
Therefore Sacrifice in this case should be joyful and
meaningful, because it is entering more deeply into Jesus'
dying and rising. So let us in remembering we are dust, divine
dust, graced clay, strive to deepen our relationship with our Maker through
Prayer and Joyful Sacrifice so that, come
Easter, we shall have moved on to heartily sing, 'Alleluia, He lives and so will we.