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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Spirituality: "Ashes" by Bishop Emil A. Wcela

Across our street is a pile of charred wood, the sad remains of a home, empty for years, finally torched by vandals. Only the ashes of the walls that once sheltered a family and their hopes and dreams recall the people who once lived there. When they are carted away, even this silent memorial will be no more.

[On Wednesday], we [will] receive ashes on our foreheads. These burned remnants of the branches of last Palm Sunday are gritty witness to the crushed hopes and dreams of another time when “Hosanna!” turned to “Crucify him!”

However, our ashes are not the marks of a past ruined and forgotten. Surely, they acknowledge our humanity and sinfulness. We are mortal and will one day die. But what moves us to walk up the aisle is not despair. We believe that the Son of God loves us, has shared all that we are, except our sinfulness, and gives us hope.

Each year, our Church calls us to the three great actions of Lent. Pray – acknowledge that God is the center of our lives. Fast – trust that, with God’s help, we can work to control the disorder of mind and body that pulls us away from him. Help others – show that we are members of a living body in which each part supports the other.

Ashes. Not just a sign that we are mortal and sinful, but witness to what we can be through the one who transformed the ashes of Good Friday into the new life of Easter Sunday.

Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus of Rockville Centre (NY)

Source: Give Us This Day: Daily Prayer for Today’s Catholic, February 2013, page 144.


  1. As I received my ashes this morning, I reflected sadly on the contrast between those ashes of humility and hope and the pile of ashes in California that contains the remains of Christopher Dorner, incinerated in the small cabin where he died (possibly by suicide if the "single shot" heard from outside indicated his final despair and the fear of being burned alive) in the course of his rampage against those he felt had wronged him. Repentence, forgiveness, humility and hope seem to have been far from his thoughts, yet we must hope that even in those last moments, grace may have touched him.
    I am also reminded of Rabbi Hananiah ben Teryadon, who was burnt alive by the Romans, who wrapped him in a Torah scroll as a particularly sadistic gesture. His grieving friends and students were amazed that he showed no pain as he slowly expired (the Romans had stuffed the scroll with wet wool to prolong his torture) and asked him why his face held such an expression of wonder. He cried out, "The scroll is burning, but the letters are rising up to Heaven!" May it be so for all of us, that when our earthly form is reduced to ashes, the essential meaning of our lives rises up to Heaven to await our ultimate resurrection.

    1. Thanks. These examples are vivid. Being burned alive is a terrible torture. May it never be done again.

    2. Just happened last week to a young woman in Papua New Guinea who was accused of witchcraft. A huge crowd including children participated in torturing and eventually burning her, under the eyes of the local police who claimed they could do nothing. The human condition has not changed very much, unfortunately. We still need salvation and conversion!

    3. I read about that. It was just awful. We can't look back at history and say our actions were barbaric is we are doing the same things today. What will it take for us to learn?