Do we really need more ashes? It seems we have had ashes before us for a year now: 450,000 deaths and still counting; overflowing intensive care units; exhausted medical personnel; grieving families and friends; loss of 10 million jobs and the collapse of untold numbers of small businesses. There is so much more, but you get the point. We have had too many reminders, do we need to hear it again at our Ash Wednesday service, either in person, or watching it live-streamed? – “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” We are surrounded by reminders of our fragility, more so, this past year.

So why go to church, or hear the somber reminder live-streamed into our homes? Stay home, or turn off the computer. We deserve a break from the tone of gloom and doom; from “the dust reminders.” We also know that they are not going away soon and we are due to experience them still-so-many ways these next months.

Even without the pandemic we don’t need Ash Wednesday to remind us that we are dust. Reminders of dust are all around us. Dust is what we return to at the end of our lives. But long before we breathe our last, life reminds us of the corruptibility of everything. So much of what we put our confidence in ages, breaks, comes apart at the seams, wears out. All that is new, shiny and glitzy has a very short life expectancy. Mortality touches even our most noble human treasures: loved ones die, sickness limits us, age saps our energies and our noble efforts to do good feel the strain of the long haul.

This day’s liturgical action puts ashes on our foreheads or, because of the pandemic, sprinkles them on our heads, as a reminder of what life does to us all too frequently. It comes over to us and, in one way or another, rubs ashes on our foreheads, and says, “Remember, you are dust.” It is frightening to think about how often we forget and run away from this reality. So much of our society bases its identity and worth on what we have achieved and what we own. Today says, “Remember, it is dust.”

There is an alternate prayer the one giving us ashes might say: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” After we are told to repent we are invited to believe in the Gospel. We remember that we are baptized Christians, called to be in the world in a unique way. The world we live in is guided by different standards and norms for behavior. These ashes remind us that our old way of life is dead – turned to dust. We don’t belong to the former ways any longer, so we need to stop living as if we do. We are reborn to a new life. As a result of this faith our lives must reflect this new life and so help others welcome the gospel message we have been called to hear again today and recommit ourselves to this Lent. In Paul’s language, our lives are to be an invitation to others to also, “...be reconciled to God,” for we are “ambassadors for Christ.”

Walter Brueggeman, reflects on the dust statement in Gen 2: 7 (“The Lord God formed the human person of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living creature.” ). He says that the Ash Wednesday liturgical formula reminds us that the human person is fundamentally material in origin, subject to all the realities of an “earth creature.” Since dust is no “self starter,” the reality of the human situation is that we depend on God’s free gift of breath. We are totally dependent on God for each moment of our existence. This is not a curse, but what it means to be human. So, when we are told to remember we are dust today, we are also making a statement about ourselves to God. It is as if we are saying, “Remember our origins, O God. We are dust without you. So much of what we touch turns to dust if not done in your name. Sustain us moment to moment in your life and through the death of your Son, deliver us from our sin.” Who are we humans? We are creatures gifted from moment to moment by our gracious God. That is not a bad thing to remember as we enter another Lent.

It is important during Lent not to privatize the season. In the past, with the separation of adult baptism from the Vigil, we lost a sense of the communal nature of Lent. What we got instead was a highly individualized experience focusing on private spirituality with personal penances and “spiritual development.” As always the scriptural readings give us balance and keep us on track. While we haven’t focused on the Joel reading, notice, the call to the assembly, “Notify the congregation, assemble the elders....” The community is being summoned and reminded to turn back to God, “...rend your hearts not your garments and return to the Lord your God.”

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/021721.cfm

POSTCARDS TO DEATH ROW INMATES

“One has to strongly affirm that condemnation to the death penalty is an inhuman measure that humiliates personal dignity, in whatever form it is carried out."
---Pope Francis

This is a particularly vulnerable time for state and federal prisoners. Conditions, even without the pandemic, are awful in our prisons. Imagine what it is like now with the virus spreading through the close and unhealthy prison settings. I invite you to write a postcard to one or more of the inmates listed below to let them know we have not forgotten them. If the inmate responds you might consider becoming pen pals.

Please write to:

For more information on the Catholic position on the death penalty go to the Catholic Mobilizing Network: http://catholicsmobilizing.org/resources/cacp/

On this page you can sign “The National Catholic Pledge to End the Death Penalty.” Also, check the interfaith page for People of Faith Against the Death Penalty: http://www.pfadp.org/

DONATIONS

“First Impressions” is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like “First Impressions” sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at jboll@opsouth.org
If you would like to support this ministry, please send tax deductible contributions to fr. Jude Siciliano, O.P., St. Albert Priory, 3150 Vince Hagan Drive, Irving, Texas 75062-4736

Make checks payable to: Dominican Friars. Or, go to our webpage to make an online donation: https://www.PreacherExchange.com/donations.htm

ANNOUNCEMENTS

1. We have compiled Four CDS for sale:

If you are a preacher, lead a Lectionary-based scripture group, or are a member of a liturgical team, these CDs will be helpful in your preparation process. Individual worshipers report they also use these reflections as they prepare for Sunday liturgy.

You can order the CDs by going to our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.com  and clicking on the “First Impressions” CD link on the left.

2. “Homilias Dominicales” —These Spanish reflections on the Sunday and daily scriptures are written by Dominican sisters and friars. If you or a friend would like to receive these reflections drop a note to fr. John Boll, O.P. at Jboll@opsouth.org.

3. Our webpage: www.PreacherExchange.org - Where you will find “Preachers’ Exchange,” which includes “First Impressions” and “Homilias Dominicales,” as well as articles, book reviews, daily homilies and other material pertinent to preaching.

4. “First Impressions” is a service to preachers and those wishing to prepare for Sunday worship. It is sponsored by the Dominican Friars. If you would like “First Impressions” sent weekly to a friend, send a note to fr. John Boll, OP at the above email address.