J.M.J. Reflecting on the Ash Wednesday Liturgy, Saint John Paul II wrote: "Never, perhaps, does God's word resound so directly for us. Never does He address each in this way, without exceptions. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."
For the Holy Father, these words had a double significance. They "speak of death, with which the life of every man and woman on earth ends," and they "call each of us back to 'the origin.' They were uttered to the first Adam as the fruit of sin."
Lent invites us to recall where we came from, and where we are going. As the Pope asserted, Lent is "not only remembrance, but it is also a continual challenge."
With one eye keenly on the past--not in a nostalgic way, but in order to learn its lessons--and the other squarely on the future, we will find ourselves rooted in the reality of our origins and securely rising to our glorious destiny.
Saint Gregory Nazianzen once penned: "Recognize to whom you owe the fact that you exist, that you breathe, that you understand, that you are wise, and, above all, that you know God and hope for the Kingdom of Heaven and the vision of glory, now darkly as in a mirror but then with greater fullness and purity. You have been made a son of God, co-heir with Christ."
We come from God and are going to Him. Nothing could be simpler. Because He made us, the Creator of the universe has a claim on our destiny.
Prayer, penance and almsgiving form a kind of admission: We recognize that our bodies are of dust, but that our souls have been infused by "the Lord and Giver of Life." Lent reminds us that our lives are not our own. We have been given Life so that one day we may enjoy the Life--Jesus Christ--and live with Him forever in Paradise.
Six weeks seems too short for entering into this glorious truth. We must make the most of Lent. With the Church, we need to pray, fast and give alms, acknowledging our origins and end, aware that we will receive untold blessings and riches. "Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed," the Sacred Liturgy of Easter proclaims. We now realize where we have come from and where our Savior leads us.
(Slightly adapted from an article that appeared in the National Catholic Register on February 18, 1996, page four. Used with permission.)