We are almost done with the penitential season, but it’s not too late to take note of what happened to the ages-old message that came with the ashes . . .
In the spring of ’02, I dropped in at Old St. Pat’s on Ash Wednesday for my annual reminder that I am dust and unto dust will return — good to keep in mind when I am tempted to take pride in my considerable accomplishments — only to be told by a feverishly smiling 35-ish woman-with-ashes that God loves me, or something like it. She did not tell me to have a nice day, I’ll give her that.
I believe God loves me and can hardly object to being reminded of it. But what about paths of glory leading to the grave and all that, in this case the time-honored “Dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return”? I believe also in resurrection, but what about death and its brand of finality? You can overdo reminding people about it, but you can underdo it too. Not good to skip it.
This was hardly my first happy-face reminder of a shift from death as helpful meditation material. Funeral masses have not involved black vestments for ages, having given way to white ones, which emphasize resurrection. Catholic funerals emphasize life after death. It’s the ultimate selling point. But you would think this cherished belief means we can stand being reminded of death and putrefaction in at least one small ritual, wouldn’t you?