A letter St. Paul of the Cross wrote about “mystical death” may help us celebrate Ash Wednesday.
“Life for true servants and friends of God means dying every day: ‘We die daily; for you are dead and your life is hidden with Christ in God.’ This is the mystical death I want you to undergo. I’m confident that you will be reborn to new life in the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ, as you die mystically in Christ more and more each day, in the depths of the Divinity. Let your life be hidden with Christ in God…
“Think about a mystical death. Dying mystically means thinking only of living a divine life, desiring only God, accepting all that God sends and not worrying about it. It means ignoring everything else so that God can work in your soul, in the sanctuary of your soul, where no creature, angelic or human, can go and there you can experience God working and being born, as you mystically die.
“But I’m in a hurry, and this note is getting too mystical, so listen to it with a grain of salt, because we don’t get it.” (Letter, Dec 28, 1758)
Ash Wednesday’s a good time to try to “get” what the saint is saying. Ashes are placed on our foreheads in the form of a cross and some simple words are said: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
A reminder we will die. Yet, this brief symbolic acts says much more. A daily mystical death is also taking place within us. Our physical life will end, the ashes tell us; the day and hour unknown. But ashes in the form of a cross say Jesus Christ changes death. “Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life.” Jesus Christ has made his risen life ours. His gift is hidden from us, yet he promises we will experience it when we enter his glory.
Meanwhile, the mystery of his death and resurrection is at work in us now. Enter this mystery mystically, St. Paul says. Daily, deliberately, attentively accept God working within you. A new life is being born in you, though you may not see it. Desire it, accept what God sends, without worry. God is working within you through the mystery of the Lord’s cross.
Yet, as the saint says in his letter, he has to hurry off, like the rest of us, to something else. He’s going somewhere, or has something to do, or someone to see, and he tells his correspondent that you can’t think about deep things too long. No, we can’t.
And so, we only glimpse this mystery as ashes are placed on us. Still, let’s hear the Lord’s voice in today’s readings and the signs of the liturgy. Ash Wednesday is an ambassador sent by God reminding us he is at work in us; he’ll send graces through the days of Lent and Easter. Yes, in all the days of our life.
Let us embrace his cross each day and die mystically and be born anew.
If you’re interested in more on Ash Wednesday and Lent, go here.