Ash Wednesday – Dust’s Conversion
Fr. José Granados, dcjm
The great symbol of this Wednesday puts before us the question of the body. It is the sign of ash that is imposed on the head. Ash: the fleeting flesh, which passes and does not return, like the grass of the field. Ash: we were formed from the earth and to the earth we shall return. Ash: our dependent and fragile flesh: “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But this does not say it all.
Not everything is said because ash, in revealing our poverty, also reveals that we can ask for help and hope that this cry will be heard. Quevedo expressed it this way, remembering that we had to be dust, but also that this dust had been filled with love, and that love conquers death. And he wrote: “dust you will be, but dust in love.”
This is basically the Christian proclamation. Dust is fragile and will be dust again. But that dust, moistened, was shaped by the hands of God and the Spirit of life was breathed into it. And so, a great promise has been made to the dust. If it recognizes the footprints of the Creator, if it converts to Him, if it enters into His love, it will be able to receive in fullness His Spirit of life.
When ashes are imposed, one of these two phrases is said: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, or “Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Lent is the path guided by these two phrases, by these two “conversions.” First of all, it is a matter of welcoming the humility of flesh, of reaching its depth in suffering and death. But it is precisely in this weakness that another conversion opens up: to be converted to the mystery of life and love that is in the flesh. For we have been given a body for gratitude, for acceptance, for self-giving. The whole of Lent leads us to go through the conversion of man into dust, but not to remain in it; rather to discover the conversion of dust into risen flesh, full of life.
This language of the flesh is contained in the three keys of Lent: almsgiving, prayer and fasting.
Almsgiving speaks to us of the body that opens itself to our brother. The first depth of the body is that which makes us belong to the same family. That is why the flesh allows us to experience the suffering of our brother within ourselves. Thus the letter to the Hebrews says: “Be mindful of the ill-treated as of yourselves, for you also are in the body” (Heb 13:3). If my brother is my flesh, if I share with him the deepest good, how can I not share the other goods!
Prayer is also born in the flesh, because it is there that we understand our weakness and our need for help. The prayer of the beggar spreads open his hands to God, and this suffices for his supplication. He who has everything, who needs nothing, does not pray. Praying, as St. Augustine said, consists in enlarging one’s desires, in order to desire by God’s measure. And desires are born of the flesh, as the psalmist sings: “My body pines for you…”
Finally, there is fasting. The fasting flesh cries out, because it desires and does not attain its desire. But in so doing it does not deny the desire, but rather directs it to its goal. Fasting is not silencing desires, but directing them to their fullness. Fasting cultivates the desire for the fullness of all desires. Fasting is desire for the resurrection of the flesh, where Lent ends. Fasting is detaching the flesh from the isolated instant, from short-sighted pleasure, to give it the wings of hope.
We ask that in this Lent the Lord may lead us to the depths of the flesh. The depth of the flesh is the memory that the fingers of God have left in it. The depth of the flesh is the promise that these fingers sowed: the flesh filled with the glory of God who created us. Christ, in taking the cross, in dying and rising, takes us to that depth of the flesh, and reveals to us what is in that depth: the image and likeness of God.