Presence of God – I place myself in Your presence, O Lord; illumine with Your light the eternal truths, and awaken in my soul a sincere desire for conversion.
“Dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return” (Genesis 3:19).
These words, spoken for the first time by God to Adam after he had committed sin, are repeated today by the Church to every Christian, in order to remind him of two fundamental truths–his nothingness and the reality of death.
Dust, the ashes which the priest puts on our foreheads today, has no substance; the lightest breath will disperse it. It is a good representation of man’s nothingness: “O Lord, my substance is as nothing before Thee” (Psalm 38:6), exclaims the Psalmist. Our pride, our arrogance, needs to grasp this truth, to realize that everything in us is nothing. Drawn from nothing by the creative power of God, by His infinite love which willed to communicate His being and His life to us, we cannot–because of sin–be reunited with Him for eternity without passing through the dark reality of death. The consequence and punishment of sin, death is, in itself, bitter and painful; but Jesus, who wanted to be like to us in all things, in submitting to death has given all Christians the strength to accept it out of love. Nevertheless, death exists, and we should reflect on it, not in order to distress ourselves, but to arouse ourselves to do good. “In all thy works, remember thy last end, and thou shalt never sin” (Sirach 7:40). The thought of death places before our eyes the vanity of earthly things, the brevity of life–“All things are passing; God alone remains”–and therefore it urges us to detach ourselves from everything, to scorn every earthly satisfaction, and to seek God alone. The thought of death makes us understand that “all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone” (Imitation of Christ I, 1,4).
“Remember that you have only one soul; that you have only one death to die … then there will be many things about which you care nothing” (St. Teresa of Jesus, Maxims for Her Nuns, 68), that is, you will give up everything that has no eternal value. Only love and fidelity to God are of value for eternity. “In the evening of life, you will be judged on love” (St. John of the Cross, Spiritual Maxims: Words of Light, 57).
“O Jesus, how long is man’s life, although we say that it is short! It is short, O my God, since, by it, we are to gain a life without end; but it seems very long to the soul who aspires to be with You quickly…. O my soul, you will enter into rest when you are absorbed into the sovereign Good, when you know what He knows, love what He loves, and enjoy what He enjoys. Then your will will no longer be inconstant nor subject to change … and you will forever enjoy Him and His love. Blessed are they whose names are written in the Book of Life! If yours is there, why are you sad, O my soul, and why are you troubled? Trust in God, to whom I shall still confess my sins and whose mercies I shall proclaim. I shall compose a canticle of praise for Him and shall not cease to send up my sighs toward my Savior and my God. A day will come, perhaps, when my glory will praise Him, and my conscience will not feel the bitterness of compunction, in the place where tears and fears have ceased forever…. O Lord, I would rather live and die in hope, and in the effort to gain eternal life, than to possess all creatures and their perishable goods. Do not abandon me, O Lord! I hope in You, and my hope will not be confounded. Give me the grace to serve You always and dispose of me as You wish” (St. Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God 15 – 17).
If the remembrance of my infidelities torments me, I shall remember, O Lord, that “as soon as we are sorry for having offended You, You forget all our sins and malice. O truly infinite goodness! What more could one desire? Who would not blush with shame to ask so much of You? But now is the favorable time to profit from it, my merciful Savior, by accepting what You offer. You desire our friendship. Who can refuse to give it to You, who did not refuse to shed all Your Blood for us by sacrificing Your life? What You ask is nothing! It will be to our supreme advantage to grant it to You” (St. Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God 14).
Note from Dan: This post on Ash Wednesday is provided courtesy of Baronius Press and contain one of two meditations for the day. If you would like to get the full meditation from one of the best daily meditation works ever compiled, you can learn more here: Divine Intimacy. Please honor those who support us by purchasing and promoting their products.
Art for this post on Ash Wednesday: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian on Ash Wednesday, 22 February 2012, own work by Jennifer Balaska, Oxh973, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.