Ash Wednesday: Sober reminder of our destiny

Every year I hear the same thing, Memento, Homo, quia tu es pulvis, et pulveris reverteris, although it is likely said in English, “Remember, Human, you are dust and into dust you shall return.”

For many, many years, this statement has jolted me back into my humanity from the fantasy land of politics and secular materialism.  It is interesting to note that the word for Adam, as in THAT Adam, means dust. We return not just to dust, as in corrupting into  our most basic elements, but back to our original parent, the origins of our humanity, the person who changed our destiny.

Here are some random thoughts about mortality, destiny and other esoteric thoughts I only think of when pressed.

  • Our destiny is Heaven, but it now takes our effort to make it there.  No free rides, Take up your cross daily and follow me. No conveyor belt discipleship.
  • We all came from one person, so we believe, and we return to dust from which we came, There is a cycle of life.
  • Baptism takes away Original Sin, the sin of our first parents, but it does not take away the effects of that sin. We are tempted to sin,  We must die. We must suffer pain, as in my Leukemia. We just work for our bread, and our salvation.
  • We wiil die, then what?
  • Ash Wednesday is cold water in our face to say, Wake up! Your Redemption is at Hand.
  • Ash Wednesday is a day of mourning for our humanity and also a day of atonement for our sins.


Read the following Scriptures from Isaiah 58. It is the first reading in the Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings for Ash Wednsday.

First reading
From the book of the prophet Isaiah
Concerning fasting that pleases God

Thus says the Lord God:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.

They seek me day after day,
and desire to know my ways,
Like a nation that has done what is just
and not abandoned the law of their God;
They ask me to declare what is due them,
pleased to gain access to God.
“Why do we fast, and you do not see it?
afflict ourselves, and you take no note of it?”

Lo, on your fast day you carry out your own pursuits,
and drive all your laborers.
Yes, your fast ends in quarreling and fighting,
striking with wicked claw.
Would that today you might fast
so as to make your voice heard on high!
Is this the manner of fasting I wish,
of keeping a day of penance:
That a man bow his head like a reed,
and lie in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call this a fast,
a day acceptable to the Lord?

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;
Your vindication shall go before you,
and the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer,
you shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I am!

If you remove from your midst oppression,
false accusation and malicious speech;
If you bestow your bread on the hungry
and satisfy the afflicted;
Then light shall rise for you in the darkness,
and the gloom shall become for you like midday;

Then the Lord will guide you always
and give you plenty even on the parched land.
He will renew your strength,
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring whose water never fails.
The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake,
and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up;
“Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you,
“Restorer of ruined homesteads.”

Read the New Testament counterpart of Isaiah.  Matthew 25:31, 34, 35

The Judgment of the Nations

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”



Can you answer these questions, looking at the two Scripture quotes:

  • What are both Isaiah and Matthew trying to tell us about moving from just doing fasting and penance and doing the Corporal Works of Mercy?
  • Do you see a connection between moving from a legal intepretation of what is good to an interpretation of the heart?
  • What does loving Christ as he loved us mean, in terms of both passages from Scripture?
  • Does Lent mean giving up watermelon and chocolate or does it mean more. How much more?  What are you called to do?



That in all things, may God be glorified.  –St. Benedict


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