On Ash Wednesday ashes are placed on our foreheads in the form of a cross and simple words are said: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
A reminder we will die. Our physical life will end, the ashes say; the day and hour unknown.
Yet, the simple act means much more. The ashes are in the form of the cross, which says Jesus Christ changes death. “Dying, you destroyed our death. Rising, you restored our life.” Jesus Christ has made his risen life ours. He promises we will enter into his glory, though his promise is hidden for now. We embrace it in faith.
In a letter to someone, St. Paul of the Cross wrote about mystical death, something to think about on Ash Wednesday.
“Life means dying every day as servants and friends of God. ‘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 you’ll 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 mystical death. Dying mystically means concentrating on divine life, desiring God, accepting all God sends without worry. It means letting God work in your soul, in the sanctuary of your soul, where no creature, angelic or human, can go. Experience God working there and being born in you as you mystically die.
“But I’m in a hurry, and this note is getting too mystical, so take it with a grain of salt. It’s hard to understand. “ (Letter, Dec 28, 1758)
The mystery of God at work in us is hard to understand. God works in unknown ways, hidden yet sure. We accept it, desire it, try to be attentive to it, but still we can only glimpse what God does in his mercy and love.
Yet, the saint says in his letter that he has to hurry off– like the rest of us– to something else. He’s going somewhere, he has something to do, someone to see, and he tells his correspondent that you can’t think about deep things too long. No, we can’t.
“O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?….Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ( 1 Corinthians, 15, 55,57)
“In you, Lord, is our hope. ..We shall dance and rejoice in your mercy.” (Evening Prayer, Office of the Dead)