You are dust, and to dust you shall return. The 40 days and 40 nights are upon us as we enter into the great season of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. It is the great time of conversion in the Church, and it all begins today. And we all have an important new intention in offering up our sacrifices for our departing pope and the cardinals as we begin to await some white smoke.
Marcel LeJeune explains the use of ashes in the Ash Wednesday liturgy in an epic post detailing all things lenten:
Today, ashes are still this same sign of repentance and mourning for our sins. They also represent our mortality. “I am nothing but dust and ashes” (Gen. 18:27). We started as nothing and our bodies will become dust and ashes after our death. Reminding ourselves that nobody escapes physical death, we look forward to eternal life.
Sam Rocha thinks on the dual sides of our celebration kicking off Lent:
The paradox is fully present today, Ash Wednesday. We are reminded of our mortality, a sign of our brokenness and weakness. We are fasting. We are fallen, but we wear our marks with pride. We observe Lent with stickers of penance and ascetic badges of honor. What’s going on? I don’t know exactly, and I’m not sure that it’s all that important to know, but I do know this: Lent isn’t a game or a sport. There is no winning and there are no prizes. No prizes?—Yes, I know what Paul said about running the race, but surely he wasn’t making holiness into cheap sport. If Lent is a sport, it is a mad, wild, irrational sport, verging on suicidal, where we play for nothing but nothing. Nothing but the Cross. Everything is at stake.
Frank Weathers recommends we get a different perspective on “giving up” things for Lent:
But it is, after all, better to give than to receive. For example, for Lent during the first official year I was a Catholic (2008-2009), I decided to “give up” a portion of my lunch hour by going to daily Mass. The funny thing is, after six weeks of going to Mass daily that first year (on weekdays mind you), I continued going to daily Mass. Since a parish is close by, within walking distance of my office, I now can’t imagine not going to daily Mass for as long as I am able. So, you see what I mean? That which I “gave up” really turned out to be a blessing that I received. Hmmm.
And in his first public appearance since announcing he will be stepping down, Pope Benedict XVI began his last Ash Wednesday Mass as shepherd of the Church with these words:
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
As you know, I have decided – thank you for your kindness – to renounce the ministry which the Lord entrusted to me on 19 April 2005. I have done this in full freedom for the good of the Church, after much prayer and having examined my conscience before God, knowing full well the seriousness of this act, but also realizing that I am no longer able to carry out the Petrine ministry with the strength which it demands. I am strengthened and reassured by the certainty that the Church is Christ’s, who will never leave her without his guidance and care. I thank all of you for the love and for the prayers with which you have accompanied me. Thank you; in these days which have not been easy for me, I have felt almost physically the power of prayer – your prayers – which the love of the Church has given me. Continue to pray for me, for the Church and for the future Pope. The Lord will guide us.
It is incredible to hear Pope Benedict talking about the “future pope.” Prayers indeed.