THE PASSERBY | Ashes to ashes, dust to dust

THAT’S the title of some pop songs, the most notable of
which was the one written by Dennis Lambert and performed by the 5th
Dimension in 1973. It was a top hit with a catchy tune, though the
lyrics definitely are not mainly religious in character. Rather it
expresses angst over our tenuous and fragile human condition in this

Just the same, the song cannot help but borrow some
religious expression that is at the fore and center of Ash Wednesday,
the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent. Such is life. No
matter how secular and worldly things can be, the religious sentiment
would always manage to come out. Thus, I believe that there is always
hope in life no matter how far south it falls from God.

Yes, it’s true that a constituent part of us came from ash
and dust and that we would one day end up also there. But let’s never
forget that there is also another constituent part of ours that is
spiritual and as such is above the fate of our material condition.

These two components form one organic whole with the
mortality of the material part taken up by the immortality of the
spiritual part which is our soul. More than this, our spiritual soul,
being rational and capable to being elevated to the supernatural
order, actually originates from the Spirit of God, its creator, and is
kept properly alive by that Spirit if we only freely connect ourselves
with the Spirit.

What the celebration of Ash Wednesday and the whole season
of Lent signifies is that our body and everything related to our
material, temporal and earthly condition should be properly animated
by the Spirit of God so that our bodily and earthly condition can also
participate in the spiritual, supernatural and eternal life meant for

Given the condition of our body and everything related to
it, we need to discipline and purify it so that it can enter into the
spiritual and supernatural world. This point was articulated by Christ
when he said: “The Spirit gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The
words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (Jn 6,63)

More graphically, Christ said regarding this point: “If
anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross
and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but
whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16,24-25)

Let’s try our best to take these words of Christ seriously,
putting them into action especially during this season of Lent. We
should be generous in going through the practices of prayer, fasting
and abstinence, and the other means of self-denial and mortification,
and works of mercy, since these are what Christ recommends and what
the Church now encourages us to do. Let’s do them with all our heart,
and not just out of compliance.

Let’s see to it that these practices would really give us
the sensation that we are getting closer to Christ, that we are
getting to be more and more like him, sharing his mind, his intentions
and desires, his fate. Let’s be convinced that this is what is truly
proper to us.

We need to realize more and more deeply that in this life,
suffering and the need for purification are not only unavoidable but
are first of all necessary, given the weakened, wounded and sinful
condition of our humanity. If we go through them with Christ, assuming
his attitude toward all this, then all our suffering would have a
great redemptive value.

Let’s remember that the Lenten season is actually a happy
season. It is like taking a shower with all the amenities given to
make us truly clean and presentable to God and to everybody else. Yes,
Lent is a season of smiles, of a great hope for an assured victory.