Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Christ, our Life and our Light

Today, the Catholic Church celebrates Ash Wednesday, the day when people have ashes placed on their heads in the form of a cross. This day is the beginning of a more intense period in the life of Catholics; they are to pray more, to be more charitable, to make more sacrifices, and to be ever more firm in their duty to avoid sin. When the priest places the ashes on the people, one of the things he may say is: "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return."

These words are rather stark. They remind us of our mortality, of our death. One may wonder why the Church has us think of this sad reality. After all, death is the greatest frustration of our desire to live. We wish that suffering and death were done away with, that they could be eliminated from human experience. Even when we accept the reality of death, we still try to ignore it. And yet, Ash Wednesday forbids us to ignore death. On the contrary, we are to face it. "Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you shall return."

One of the reasons death is so difficult is that we do not know exactly what it is. We may understand it from a biological perspective, but we do not understand it as a human experience. Death remains unknown to us because we are among the living. It is precisely in this regard that we must turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Ash Wednesday leads us rapidly to a profound consideration of the most important reality in the entire universe - the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. When He died, He entered into the realm of death. He entered into the darkness of death - He who once said, "I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." (John 8:12)

Here, then, is the call of Ash Wednesday: We must be followers of Christ. Since He is perfect, and we are imperfect, there is always room for us to improve in following Him. We can grow, we can start over. Whatever the case, we can have a living friendship with the Lord Jesus, who Himself passed through the realm of death and emerged victorious in His resurrection. This friendship with Christ is our hope. Not only does this friendship help us to see death differently, but it is also the cause of our own victory over death. This friendship, which must grow and mature, begins at baptism.

Dear brothers and sisters, if a living friendship with the Lord Jesus can help us face the reality of death with hope and with courage, then it can also help us in every other aspect of our lives. Perhaps now would be a good time to turn again to Him who alone is the Savior of the world.

God bless you.