Blessed Ash Wednesday to everyone! God is continually good, isn’t He? Especially when, as the Divine Mercy and Fatima prayers go, we are “most in need of His Mercy.” I was recently asking myself why that might be. But one thing we as Catholics share with our Calvinist sisters and brothers is an appreciation for both the sovereignty and glory of God. It is absolutely true that the very essence of God is His love, and that is why He has offered salvation to us. But a salvation dependent on us, at least on our fleshly desire for Him, is not enough, and never has been. While we would differ from Calvin in that we believe we are both able to and must choose to cooperate with His Grace, we agree with them that it is totally and completely His Grace that saves us.
If that sounds paradoxical, it is because it is meant to. St Augustine of Hippo, in his 169th sermon, stated that “He who created you without you will not justify you without you.” And it is that first portion of the statement which fits so well with His delight in saving the unsalvageable It is to the very glory of God when He reaches down and “saves a wretch like me” as the wonderful hymn Amazing Grace says to each of us. St Paul warns us with solemnity not to misuse this grace in Romans 6: 1-4 (ESV):
“1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Truth be told, we are saved because He loves us endlessly, and He does so because that is His very nature to do so. It therefore completely and totally glorifies and exalts His loving nature to offer salvation to undeserving humankind. The two fit together hand in glove, and one is not contrary to the other. Bringing us back to the original thought here, that is why He delights in redeeming us from our hopelessly sinful selves. His Love and His Glory. It just happens to include us in the package.
Ash Wednesday is a great reminder of this. As the priest imposes the ashes (usually burned from last year’s blessed Palms from Palm Sunday) he says the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” If you had any ego remaining, thinking that God saved you or, more accurately, is in process of saving you due to your great value to the Kingdom, that pronouncement should pretty much eliminate those thoughts. As the Sign of the Cross is gently but firmly placed on your forehead, Lent begins for you. And this Holy Season, which is given to assist our growth in the threefold purpose of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and an increase of each of these in your life and mine, is an awakening of the gift of God which is already in us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. If even St Timothy needed such an awakening according to the admonishment of St Paul, then surely we do from time to time as well.
2 Timothy 1:6 (ESV):
“For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
So what about this apparition deal? I think most of us have heard of supposed visions of our Blessed Mother in the form of everything from tortillas to chocolate, and if we look hard enough for signs we will almost always find something that might pass for one. While the rich symbolism of Ash Wednesday needs no such signs, yet each and every imposition of ashes is as individual as the person receiving it. Although the goal is to make a “cross” on each and every forehead, the priests and ministers are moving a bit fast, especially in a big parish or congregation, and the ashen image does not always look, shall we just say, traditional.
Mine first reminded me of a Tau Cross, which is a cross in the shape of the Greek letter Tau and was first promoted by St Francis of Assisi, one of my patrons. So far so good. At next examination, it then reminded me of the dove of the Holy Spirit, and finally on 3rd glance the Resurrection of Jesus our Lord. Now however it looks more like a simple airplane. Yikes and ouch. I do not think I can claim it as a “private revelation” after all…
Still each of the above symbols (except perhaps the airplane of course!!!) are spiritual images which on this Ash Wednesday remind me of a larger and already revealed set of essential truths—Jesus dying on the Cross for us all, Jew and Greek (which then ultimately includes all Gentiles), his Resurrection from the dead, and his gift of the Holy Spirit to those of us who are baptized into Him and walk in His Faith. So I guess there are some lessons there after all, even if they do not qualify as apparitions per se. Going back to the first Scripture I quoted (Romans 6: 1-4), it is all there. And may I, and you, and each person reading this, learn to walk in obedience to our baptisms, first in the death and then the Resurrection of the Christ. Let us further allow this Lent to be fruitful indeed by increasing us in prayer, fasting when physically able, and giving to those in need. Religion is not worth much without these three, nor is life in general. Then again, they are actually one in the same, aren’t they? And all too soon, we will once again be “dust in the wind” as the 70s song by Kansas so eloquently tells us. It is a sobering thought. And one we need more than once a year.
Lastly, I want to share the Prayer Over the Offerings from the new translation of the Roman Missal It pretty much embodies everything I am attempting to say in this writing today, and likely more besides. I think we might all do well to make this prayer our own, not just for Ash Wednesday but for all of Lent and life:
“As we solemnly offer the annual sacrifice for the beginning of Lent, we entreat you, O Lord, that, through works of penance and charity, we may turn away from harmful pleasures and, cleansed from our sins, may become worthy to celebrate devoutly the Passion of your Son. Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.”
To which we each may say a heartfelt “Amen.”
SEE LAST LINK BELOW FOR AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE ABOUT THE NEW MASS TRANSLATION AND ASH WEDNESDAY…
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The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) is adapted from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. All rights reserved.
- LENT – a time of repentance & renewal (samuelanand.wordpress.com)
- Catholics flock to churches on Ash Wednesday, marking start of Lent – GMA News (gmanetwork.com)
- Ash Wednesday (frstephensmuts.wordpress.com)
- Ash Wednesday (hughosb.wordpress.com)
- Ash Wednesday in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia (gloucestercitynews.net)