Contemplating the Dust and Ashes of Life and Lent

Our Lent has begun with the injunctions to “Turn away from sin and believe in the Good News” and to “remember that we are dust.” An Ash Wednesday joke tells of a youngster who came home after hearing that second injunction at church, and came running back from his room saying, “Mommy, there’s somebody under my bed either comming or going!”

We don’t expect children to think a lot about death, but as we grow older, and aches and pains begin to crowd our agenda, and loved ones pass away, it is natural to think about one’s own passage from life. Recently, I attended several wake services close together, and then the funeral of a confrere–a respected seminary teacher. Each of these deaths affected me differently.

Several of the individuals were only casual acquaintances–but at the funeral home I heard wonderful stories of a friend, spouse, hospice volunteer. Accounts of courageous suffering, gentle acceptance and faith were exchanged as loved ones gathered. At the wake of my deceased mother’s best friend, I was moved to think of how the bonds of friendship transcend life and death, coming to rest in heaven.

Finally, at the memorial Mass for my Franciscan brother who taught me moral theology and helped to shape my ministry as a friar, we heard of his dying prayer. “Lord Jesus, come when you are ready, and make me ready when you come!”

All these experiences flavor my own Lent this year. Because of these stories and examples of faith, the thought of death makes it a bit easier to contemplate the fact that we all “are dust and unto dust we shall return!”

Have a blessed Lent!