ASH WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 17, 2021 (R1: Joel 2: 12-18; Psalm 51: 3-6B, 12-14, 17; R2: 2 Corinthians 5: 20-6: 2; Gospel Matthew. 6: 1-6, 16-18)
FR EMMANUEL INEDU OCHIGBO
REMEMBER YOU ARE DUST!
A little girl went up to her mom one morning and asked, “Where do human beings come from?” “As recorded in the Book of Genesis,” her mom explained that “God created the man from dust, breathed life into him, then God created the woman from the man’s rib, and they gave birth to children, who gave birth to children and on and on until it came to our turn.” The little girl took a deep breath and said, “That is amazing.” The next day, she went to her dad and asked the same question. Her dad said, “The name of the process is Evolution. There was a big bang, things began to evolve, it came to the point where there were monkeys that gave birth to monkeys and so on, until the monkeys evolved and became human beings.” The little girl took a deep breath and said, “That is amazing.” The next day, she went to her mom and complained that she was confused by the different answers her parents gave for the same question. Her mom replied, “My dear daughter, there is no confusion here. What I told you is about my side of the family, while what your dad told you is about his own side of the family.”
My dearly beloved in Christ, today we begin the Season of Lent with Ash Wednesday; a day that takes its name from the ashes we impose on our foreheads during today’s liturgy. When the minister or extraordinary minister imposes the ashes on our foreheads, he/she will say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” For today, I would like to focus on the first option, that is, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” One of the first things the Bible tells us about the creation of mankind is that God created the man from dust, and after Adam and Eve committed the original sin, God told them, “… you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”
This is not something that we think or talk about often. Today, the Church tells us that it is important to remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. Yes, “Remember…” Memory is one of the unique gifts we have been given by God as human beings. It is “a system or process that stores what we learn for future use.” The three basic functions of memory are encoding, storing and retrieving of information. We get information into our brains through our senses of hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting. The information is stored automatically and retrieved in the future when needed. The Church invites us to use that special gift of memory today, and so the Church says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
We encode this information from the words we hear from the minister, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We encode this information from the ashes we see with our eyes, feel on our skin and smell with our nostrils. The ashes used to mark the sign of the cross on our foreheads come from the palms used for the previous year’s Palm Sunday. We encode this information and store in our brain for use when needed.
When do we need this information for use? We need it every moment of our life here on earth. Remembering that we are dust keeps us grounded, and it keeps us humble. Remembering that we are dust and unto dust we shall return challenges us not to take any moment for granted, not to take any opportunity for granted since nothing lasts forever in this life. When I remember that I was made from dust, hardly can anyone say anything to me that will hurt my pride. When I remember that I was made from dust and will return to dust, I become careful with the choices I make in life.
We can use the first five letters of the English alphabet (A, B, C, D, and E) to tell the story of the human being. A stands for All, B stands for Birth, C stands for Choice, D stands for Death, and E stands for Eternity. The human life comes from God, and is destined to return to God. A: this is the story of All Human Beings. B: after our conception, we are born, that is our Bird. D: we do not live forever in this world, we shall die, which is our Death. E: after death, comes Eternity. You will notice that I skipped a letter between B and D. Whatever is going to happen in Eternity will be determined by what happened between our B and D, which is C, the Choices we made in life.
My dearly beloved in Christ, the Season of Lent, therefore reminds us to make wise choices in life to avoid eternal regrets. Lent is not just a period of abstinence, it is a period of doing something good. We abstain from things that are less noble to do things that are nobler. The Church reminds us, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” When we remember that we are dust, we remember our common origin, when we remember our common origin, there will be no need for segregation, there will be no need for discrimination.
According to Thomas Merton, even though today is the beginning of Lent fast, it is also a day of happiness. For the ashes reminds us that as Christians, this world is not our home, one day we will die and go to heaven where everything will be perfect and our joy will know no bounds. It is a reminder that all the pains, sufferings, disappointments that we may be experiencing now will come to an end one day, and we shall be home with God where all will be well with us forever.
As we remind ourselves of our mortality, we remember those who passed away from COVID-19 and all who have died, that God may forgive their sins and grant them a place of eternal rest, happiness and joy with Him in heaven, through Christ our Lord. Amen.