In the rite of imposition of ashes last Wednesday I note that not all people receive the ashes equally, which is to say, that the mark remaining on the forehead varies from one person to another. On some it leaves a dark, wide mark while on others it is more vague and smaller. I can’t account for these different results since I mark the foreheads on each person in the same way. This rather trite observation of mine about the distribution of ashes brings me to think that not everyone may take in the meaning of the ashes in the same way. For some, it may be as an exterior display of piety for the admiration of others–a most reprehensible thing, while others may grasp the true significance of this sacramental. Strictly speaking, to address someone as “dust” would be an insult. The priest says, “Dust are you and unto dust you will revert” (my literal translation). Yet these words express the literal truth about our bodily composition, as given in Genesis–God having formed the first man out of the mud of the earth. There was at that time no necessity for man to ‘revert’ to the earth by death. This was an outcome and punishment for original sin. For ourselves–being reminded of our fallen condition, as well as of our personal sins, on Ash Wednesday, if we are not humiliated by the words of the priest we ought to be humbled by them. Put on our heads, the site of human pride, the intended message is that we should shun the deceits of the self-inflating ego. While it is the body which is given the sign of censure, it’s intended that the ashes reach into the soul of a man since it is from there, within him, that he may become corrupted in body and in soul.
Without the humility that the ritual of the ashes is meant to excite in us, our Lenten deeds are useless: they would have no spiritual value or merit. Lent then is supposed to make it so that God gets glory (rather than oneself). Lent is a self-imposed punishment upon ourselves (always to be prudently carried out in manner and in degree) for deliverance from our self-destructive impulses and our wicked deeds. Seemingly ironical that one must die in order to live, it is in fact the sinful self which needs to be destroyed for grace to take hold of one’s life. This is the rule of the spiritual life. It’s a teaching much maligned these days and vehemently opposed by some, but I doubt that there has ever been any saint of the Church who has not said as much and lived according a penitential life.
Fridays are generally days of special observance for Catholics; this should be all the more so during Lent since Friday is the day of the week on which our Lord suffered and died to redeem the human race. Accordingly, the Church designates every Friday as a day to remember our Lord’s cross by our abstinence from meat. (Sundays, in a like way, commemorate Christ’s resurrection–the reason for the Sunday Mass obligation.) Our Grotto Lenten Fridays have for some years now been the time of the parish Fish Fry (or fish bake, if you so prefer) during which, for the final segment, we have been offering spiritual talks for those who may wish to hear them. I have been giving these talks for some years past now, and while I have complained (to myself) about the extra work in preparing for them, I know they have been spiritually profitable for some (not in the least, for myself). This year, the Knights of Columbus are again sponsoring the Fish Fry in the gym, and this time with talks being given by the Marian, Brother Esteban (whom you may have seen about the parish since just before Christmas). He is speaking on The Four Last Things, a traditional Lenten topic for reflection. By the time you read this his introductory talk will have already been given. I hope that through these little conferences you will derive added benefit for your Lent 2015....
Sunday, February 22, 2015
Fr. Perrone: ashes are intended to reach into our souls
Fr. Eduard Perrone, "A Pastor's Descant" [temporary link] (Assumption Grotto News, February 22, 2015):