Genesis 2, 7-9; 3, 1-7 + Psalm 51 + Romans 5, 12-19 + Matthew 4, 1-11
The Carmelite Sisters of Villa Theresa Oklahoma City, OK
It comes with a price, these ashes. Something had to die and be burned. There was a flame, but it is gone now and all we have are these ashes. The season we begin today in some ways is really about that flame. On the night of Easter’s Great Vigil, there will be fire again, and we shall take that flame into the darkness where it will light up our faces and hopefully light up our hearts and any part of us that has gone dark and lost the light and the flame of faith. But for now it is ashes, all that is left of that flame brought to us on the day of our Baptism. For now we claim the fact that the flame is gone and must be restored. We accept the ashes because they are all that is left. As the day goes by they will fall away, perhaps to soil the papers on our desk, our habit, or shirt. For a while people we glance at them and later as they fade, probably no one will notice. The sad thing is that they will fade away, and fearfully as they do so will our resolve and commitment.
However, this cannot be so. The season we begin today, a season of conversion and repentance, of prayer and fasting more deeply than before, is our time to rekindle the flame, the fervor, and the fire of our faith. These 40 days are about much more than ashes. They are about that light— and about rediscovering something we may have too easily forgotten. In spite of sin and indifference, in spite of living in a world crowded by cynicism and doubt, we are still what our baptism proclaimed us to be. We are “children of the light.” And the candle still burns to reflect off the smile of our faces and the joy in our eyes.
So today, my dear sisters, you can remember that you are dust, but you may not return to the dust until the fire of your faith has literally burned itself out by your tireless service and the joyful light of your laughter and your peace. We are all children of the light, and the fire of the Holy Spirit that has come to us with great gifts is still like the fire of that burning bush before which Moses stood to encounter our God. Our prayer over these ashes today is that having been burned by the Fire of the Spirit, we may return, not just to dust, but to the eternal fire of God’s Love.