Dust and Diamonds—the Lenten Paradox

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“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

If you attended Mass on Ash Wednesday, you heard those words. If you’re anything like me, you walked back to the pew and wondered what those ashes on your forehead looked like.

Did you have a cross or simply an ashy blob because your priest has a big thumb?

Regardless of the shape of your ashes, the dust you received on your forehead last week has huge ramifications.

In 1979, Saint Pope John Paul II spent his Ash Wednesday adoration emphasizing the importance of the ashes. “Remember that ‘to dust you shall return.’ Remember that your life on earth has a limit,” he spoke to the crowd gathered at the Basilica of Saint Sabina.

“But the message of Ash Wednesday does not end here,” he continued. “The whole of today’s liturgy warns: Remember that limit; and at the same time: do not stop at that limit! Death is not only a ‘natural’ necessity. Death is a mystery. Here we enter the particular time in which the whole Church, more than ever, wishes to meditate on death as the mystery of man in Christ. Christ the Son of God accepted death as a natural necessity, as an inevitable part of man’s fate on earth. Jesus Christ accepted death as the consequence of sin. Right from the beginning death was united with sin: the death of the body (‘to dust you shall return’) and the death of the human spirit owing to disobedience to God, to the Holy Spirit.”

Sin turns us into dust

Through disobedience against God, man is subject to returning to dust, mere ashes of the Earth.

During Lent we are reminded to die to our sinful tendencies through the weaponry of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

“By Your fire (God’s love), You consume every trace of self-love in the soul,” Saint Catherine of Siena wrote.

Science tells us that whenever fire consumes something it becomes ashy, tarred, ugly and reduced to dust. That is certainly true— on a mere natural level. Death appears to be the end. Catholic Church reminds us during Lent that is not the case, if we have faith in Christ!

The Cross transforms us into diamonds

“Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Savior; in suffering love becomes crystallized (like a diamond!); the greater the suffering, the purer the love,” Saint Maria Faustina wrote. She summed it up perfectly!

When we take up our cross and follow Jesus, our ultimate destiny is not to become reduced to simple ashes. Instead, he will turn us into radiant diamonds.

Implore the Holy Spirit to grace us with opportunities to suffer with Christ and to unite ourselves to him so that the pressures of redemptive suffering turn us into diamonds to reflect the love of God this Lenten season.

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