Ash wednesday and Lent, times to educate ourselves in humility

on 12 Feb, 2024
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Bogota (Colombia), Sr. Ana Francisca Vergara April, February 12, 2024.- Time spins and spins, the liturgical cycle rotates and rotates and we must say that we are once again entering the season of Lent. Time seems to move faster than past years, and we pass from purple to white to green, with some red tones from time to time, almost without noticing it. This is the impression in daily life; everything is running, everything goes fast, we have not finished living a great experience, and we are already on the way to another one.

But can we stop for a few moments and look at the wonder of starting again? What if we stop to discover the pedagogy of the liturgy in the Church? This is a simple invitation to rethink the expression that, for centuries, has characterized Ash Wednesday and the official entry into the season of Lent: 'memento, homo, quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris' translated as 'remember, man, that you are dust and to dust you shall return' (Gen 3:19). This formula was given another indication, after the liturgical reform of Vatican II, since then we use the phrase 'convert and believe in the Gospel.'

The two biblical expressions are invitations to reflect on our life as believers; both have a high theological and spiritual value. However, I invite you to ponder on the phrase we have taken from the book of Genesis and to dedicate a few minutes of meditation on it..

Remember, you human being, that you are dust and that your destiny is to return there. This sentence, which can run over our sensibility because of its force, makes us ground in the reality of what we are: just dust. It is not a negative sentence but a realistic one. A sentence that humanizes us again and takes away our false pretensions of immortality and dominion. Thanks to it, we return to the reality of what we are: transient, mortal beings, called to be truly humble before God, before ourselves, and before others, without arrogance and haughtiness.

The truth of our life is that we are dying, that we get sick, and that we grow old. We are not in control of our existence, only God is in control; we cannot foresee everything, only God knows the course of things; we cannot know everything, only He is the Lord. We must let God be God; we are humans, and what we know best, although we would like to ignore it, is that we are temporary. Thus, the symbolic image of dust and ash calls us to humility and to recognize consciously the present moment before us; God gives us today as a present, as a gift. It's a present to live with an awareness of fragile and vulnerable humanity.

Humility, is opposite to pride, is this great virtue so tarnished nowadays? It places us in the place that corresponds to us; for, as the Jewish tradition says, we should carry two little pieces of paper, one in the right pocket that says: 'The whole universe was created for me' (Talmud, Sanhedrin 38th) and another in the left pocket with the biblical phrase 'I am but dust and ashes' (cf. Gen 18:27).

Let us begin the great season of Lent with awareness, recognizing our frailties and vulnerabilities, and trying to uproot the pride and arrogance that prevent us from moving towards a sincere encounter with the Risen One. Pride prevents us from seeing clearly our place and our vocation; it is not, in the words of St. Augustine, greatness but inflammation, and what is swollen seems big, but is sick.

May this time of Lent be a healing path to recognize the action of God in our lives; let us discover his pedagogy. The Lord educates us as he walks with us. Let us reread with attentive eyes the text that Deuteronomy gives us in which the meaning of the quarantine lived as an experience of divine pedagogy in which God the Father trains us as we progress towards the Promised Land:  

'Remember the path that the Lord, your God, has made you travel these forty years through the desert, to afflict you, to test you and to know your intentions, and to see whether or not you are capable of keeping his precepts. He afflicted you, starving you, and then fed you with manna - which you did not know, nor did your fathers know - to teach you that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that comes from the mouth of God. Your clothes have not been worn out, nor have your feet swollen these forty years, that you may acknowledge that the Lord, your God, has brought you up as a father brings up his son; that you may keep the precepts of the Lord, your God, follow his ways, and respect him' (Dt 8:2-6).

May this Ash Wednesday, which gives way to the therapeutic quarantine for the Christians, be a space to instruct us in the love of God and allow us to heal ourselves on a personal and ecclesial level.