Christians all over the world will mark themselves with Ashes, and begin a joyful and holy season called Lent.
What’s this about and why do we do it?
One of the phrases you might hear today is “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
In other words, don’t forget, you’re gonna die.
Seems a bit morbid. Why do I even need this reminder?
There’s something like YOLO in our Ash Wednesday celebration. This reminder can be really healthy if it shocks us out of a zombie-like existence, where we just go through the motions automatically, never really experiencing our lives, and are content with the fake happiness of a magic rectangle.
Remember you are dust. Don’t forget to live.
If it’s just YOLO, though, there’s a bit of desperation in there. If You Only Live Once and you actually have a bad day, or you make a mistake, or you lose your job, or whatever, well, too bad. That was your shot and you blew it. YOLO can be an unhealthy pressure to make our own lives incredible, or at least pretend really hard that we’re happy when we’re not.
Christians reject that unhealthy pressure today. Instead of YOLO, we say, “YOLF” as in, You Only Live Forever. When we remember that we are dust, we take the time to let God shake us awake. He has given us this life, and we miss out on the goodness if we take it for granted or slip into zombie mode.
So each Lent, we smear ashes on our forehead as an external sign of our internal mess. With the ashes, we acknowledge that we have forgotten to live. Maybe we made a bad choice, or maybe something that wasn’t our fault hurt us and locked us out of living our own lives. We’ve been getting along by pretending we’re fine.
The ashes shock us out of that attitude. Like the plants that we burned to make the ashes, the things we use to distract us from our pain burn up and are gone: our money, our clothes, our magic rectangles, our achievements – all these things pass away and leave us with the same need for healing that we were born with.
This is our big difference from YOLO: the other words you might hear today are “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.”
Yeah, break out of your robot existence, give up your fake life and remember the good news of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ: You Only Live Forever!
Your life forever is not an endless boredom in the future. Your life forever starts now. Eternal life is always now, because in God there is no Past or Future, but every moment is now.
We put on the ashes to say that God makes us unafraid to face up to the truth of our limitations and wounds, and to begin a journey towards Easter that releases all that brings us down, so that we might rise up again with Christ.
Let us Pray
Father in heaven,
The light of your truth gives sight to the darkness of sinful eyes.
May this season of repentance
Bring us the blessing of your forgiveness and the gift of your light.
Grant this through christ our lord
St Kateri, pray for us.+