An excerpt from a letter of St. Paul of the Cross 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 a 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 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. There you 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)
On Ash Wednesday, 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, so much more is said in this brief symbolic act. A daily mystical death is also taking place within us. Our physical life will end, the ashes tell us; the day and hour are unknown. But ashes in the form of a cross tell us Jesus Christ changes death. “Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life.” Jesus Christ has made his risen life ours. Though his gift is hidden, we will experience it when we enter his glory.
Meanwhile, the mystery of his death and resurrection is at work in us now. Share this mystery mystically, St. Paul of the Cross says in the letter quoted above. Daily, deliberately, attentively turn to God working within you. A new life is being born in you, though you may not see it. Desire it, accept it in whatever God sends, without worry. God is working within through the mystery of the Lord’s cross.
Yet the saint, like the rest of us, has to hurry off 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. It’s a mystery beyond us.
And so, we only glimpse this mystery as ashes are placed on us. Still, may we hear the Lord’s voice in the day’s readings and in the signs of the liturgy. Ash Wednesday is an ambassador sent by God reminding us of his work for us; he will send his graces through the days of Lent and Easter. Yes, through 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.