I Don’t Need Ashes

Continuing with the Ash Wednesday theme of the last few entries, I recently read the newsletter of another parish that piqued my interest.

The pastor said that during the Ash Wednesday services in his church he saw a regular parishioner, a daily Mass goer, staying in the pews while everyone else was going up to receive ashes. He later asked why she, of all people, seemed to be the only Catholic in the world who didn’t want ashes. She replied quite calmly that she didn’t need to get ashes because, as she averred, “I have no sins to repent of.”

Of course, he found this rather startling and bit “much” and reflected on that person’s spiritual pride. My own reaction was a bit different: But isn’t she mortal?

It was apparent to me what had happened: he was using the newer option of the formula for the imposition of ashes: Repent and believe in the Gospel! ( the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Saint Mark.) While not for one minute approving of that woman’s surprising (and impossible) assertion, I could see the origin of her remark. She probably did in fact already “believe in the Gospel” and might well have had no mortal sins to repent of. Now if she was serious in her statement to her pastor, however, she is in real danger of spiritual blindness.

If however, she heard as she came forward for ashes the other formula ( from the Book of Genesis) Remember, O man, that you are dust and unto dust, you shall return she might well have made no such demurral; unless she thinks she is in fact immortal.

Personally, I have only used the “old” formula in all my 34 years of giving out blessed ashes with very few exceptions. The Church “invented” Ash Wednesday over 1200 years ago and the Genesis formula seemed a perfect fit.

The words of God as written by the Sacred Author of Genesis are His stark reminder that we are dust; i.e., beings that only live at His leave and by His permission; and that even the best of us are ultimately to resolve physically into near nothingness. This is designed to urge us to cultivate the only thing that we will take out of this world: our immortal soul.

It is the teaching of the Faith that at the moment that we begin to exist physically in our mother’s womb at our conception, created “mediately” through the biological processes of which He is the Author, God “immediately” and directly creates our immortal soul and “infuses” it into our developing being.

While all human beings share a remarkably high percentage of DNA, what is completely unique to each one of us is our soul. Unrepeatable, a direct creation of the Heavenly Father we come into being as a “mixed” being: body and spirit (soul.)  With a foot in each kingdom, the mortal and animal, and the immortal and spiritual; we make our way through this earth and the span of years allotted to us.

The ancient Genesis statement reminds us of the separation of these two components of our human existence in bodily death and the primacy of the spiritual.

That is true of everybody: saint AND sinner and that for is me the power of the giving and receiving of blessed ashes on Ash Wednesday.

It is that that urges me to cultivate my soul in these weeks of Lent.

March 23, 2011

Wednesday of the Second Week of Lent.

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