(I will be reposting this each Ash Wednesday.)
My late son Larry always seemed to enjoy Ash Wednesday. Five years ago in 2013 I went up with him to receive ashes. He heard the traditional admonition: “Remember man thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.” and had the ashes placed on his forehead. He then did the normal circle turn that he did after receiving Communion, and we went back to our pew.
Little did we know that this would be Larry’s last Ash Wednesday. He died in the wee hours of Pentecost in 2013 of a seizure. (On that dreadful date I said to my wife that one of the greatest gifts God has given us in this life is our inability to see the future.) Now Larry’s physical body is well on its way back to dust, awaiting the Resurrection when it will be reunited with his soul.
Larry is now in the land which knows not Ash Wednesday, but only Eternal Easter, and we are left to experience this Ash Wednesday without him. I have always found Ash Wednesday to be a bleak day and it will be much bleaker yet without my son. However, Ash Wednesday, like death, is not the end, but merely a beginning. As Ash Wednesday is the portal to Easter, death is the portal to eternal life.
Saint Paul noted almost 2000 years ago that if our hope in Christ was limited to this life only that Christians were the most pitiable of men, and that those who slept in Christ would then be the deadest of the dead. Our hope, however, is not limited to this brief sojourn through this Vale of Tears. Christ taught us to call God Father to remind us all that we are children of a loving God. His resurrection revealed to us that God’s mercy and love is not limited to this world, but is for all eternity to those who love God and our neighbor.
Larry, I am confident, now enjoys the Beatific Vision. During his 21 and three-quarters years on Earth we loved him and cared for him to the best of our ability. Now he enjoys the eternal promise of Easter. Ash Wednesday reminds us of our mortality, but it also directs our minds and souls to what lies beyond death, and that is what I will remember as I receive the ashes and hear again, “Remember man thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.”, and I am sure, that while I can not see him, Larry will be doing his turn of joy at that moment.