Chaplin’s Report March – Ash and Death: Our Lenten Preparation

“Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain Wisdom of heart” (Ps. 90:12).

On Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, the Church all over the world dispenses ashes. The ritual goes with the sentence, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (This sentence was dropped after many faithful Christians complained that the statement is scary for them, that it is mean, and it talks about death) or “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”. Why should we be reminded that we are dust and to dust we shall return? What does it mean to repent and believe in the Gospel?

“No man can ransom even a brother, or pay to God his own ransom. The redemption of his soul is costly; and he will pass away forever” (Ps. 49:8-9). All life is mortal by nature. Despite the obviousness of our mortality, we still struggle for life. For example we see many people dying and leaving their wealth to others. Some students die unexpectedly after graduation without even using their degree they worked hard to achieve. However, some people continue to fight each other for wealth. Students are still working hard for graduation. No one stays home doing nothing and waiting for death. How can we justify such a motivation for living?

When a child becomes aware of his own being as a mortal being, he develops in his conscience or in his subconscious an idea that death is a reality for other as he cannot experience his own death as being dead. Although he is aware of his mortal being, a human being does not necessarily apprehend death as a mystery in which he is involved himself. He needs to be reminded of his own mortality as his only experience of death is the death of others. The idea of death as a reality for others has positive and negative implications. Without this idea, life would be gloomy. Everyone would stay in doing nothing while waiting for death. It is also
because of this idea that some people work only for their selfish interests or wealth like they will live on earth forever.

Beyond both implications, death is a kind of appointment no one can miss! By reminding us of our mortality, the purpose of the church is not to scare but to help us follow Jesus, the only one who accepted death so that we might all escape from dying and live forever in the sight of God our Father. Through our baptism, we already share in his Passion, Death, and Resurrection as he gave us power to become children of God. Nevertheless, this power did not take away our natural inclination to sin. That is why our mother Church is giving us the opportunity of Lent, a penitential period for Easter.

Lent is a journey of faith through prayer, penance, fasting, almsgiving…as we need, beyond the limit of our intellect, a strong faith to understand the Paschal Mysteries that impact our own mortal being. Even though we cannot fully understand the Paschal Mysteries, faith helps us to embrace the Risen Lord and share in His everlasting life. As a result, we believe that with death, life is changed not ended. Thanks to our sharing in the Paschal Mysteries, death becomes a springboard, a launch pad to new life of divine grace through Jesus, with Him, and in Him.

Fr. Godfrey Musabe
Chaplain, Knights of Columbus