Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 1453, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
A little dusting
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the February 19, 2015 edition of the Inland Register)
Was our household the only one in the world in which the children had assigned weekend chores? Judging from the all the vociferous complaining, one would have thought so. For some reason we must have thought that we were the only ones so victimized.
With eight feisty kids in the household, there was always plenty of energy in our home for doing a variety of chores. Naturally, we fought over who got to do what. Some tasks were just less demeaning than others for proud young souls.
The prize among the chores was sweeping the kitchen floor. The room was rather large, but if one were quick enough and Mom’s head was turned at the right moment, the dirt quickly found a hiding place under the adjacent living room carpet throw. Most of the time, it didn’t take long at all to do the floor; then, off to play....
Making quick work of embarrassing dust and dirt has become a stereotype among household duties. The “swiftier” we can get the work done, the better. Every home on the face of the earth knows its own battle with the stuff, but the faster the “enemy” is out of sight, the better.
How ironic it is, then, that we Catholics – and an increasing number of other Christians – walk around on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, with dust smeared on our foreheads. Yes, there are those who may want to sweep away their seemingly embarrassing Catholic identity with a convenient brush of the hand. For most of us, though, the mark of our Lenten summons to deal with the reality of the season lasts at least for the day.
The traditional words spoken to us by the Church during the Distribution of Ashes are very sobering: “Remember, you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” The starkness of the phrase hits home. Of ourselves, we are really nothing. And even a lifetime of achievements, all shall return to the nothingness from which it came.
These words are not intended to evoke in us a mood of depression. In God’s eyes, we are not an embarrassing cluster of dust balls. In no way should we expect God to sweep us under the carpet of time, and the sooner, the better.
For those who believe, the dust of Ash Wednesday is a paradoxical sign of life. The mark we bear is a humble reminder of our dependence on God for life. All else fundamentally is pretense and a senseless battle against the inevitable. To dust, indeed, we shall return. In the end, what matters is not what we have done with our lives, but who we have become.
Catholic spirituality embraces the dust of Lent with eager anticipation of the new life promised us in Christ Jesus. We begin our season of penance with the confession of the truth of our total dependence on God for life and holiness. At least for one day at the beginning of our 40-day sojourn in the desert of preparation for Easter’s Resurrection, we are freed by the truth which confronts our being. In that moment of truth, we are enabled to choose life.
The path to life, however, passes through death. For the believer, Lent becomes a time of true dying and rising. Our Lenten penance, thus, needs to avoid any self-serving spiritual muscle-building as we concentrate on stripping ourselves of artificial and deceptive claims to greatness and self-righteousness before God.
As we let the truth of our existence before God reduce us to the dust of nothingness, there – and only there – do we experience the saving power of God. In this kind of dying we enter into the mystery of Christ’s total gift of self for the salvation of the world.
It is tempting to move hastily through the chores of Lent – fasting, abstaining, denying, avoiding – and do so with a begrudging sense of being put-upon by the Church or the demands of the Gospel. It may even be tempting to make quick work of Lenten penance by sweeping it under the carpet of our consciousness, picking some “suffering” which has little to do with the transformation of our hearts. Lent is a season for serious, chosen spiritual growth and development. Shortcuts are possible, but they are not life-giving. Sooner or later, unto dust we shall return. We cannot hide.
(Father Savelesky is the elected administrator of the Diocese of Spokane.)
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