The title of today’s article “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return” seems a sentence worth saying to his opponent by a warrior before the final battle, almost as if to induce greater fear before the attack. Yet, no, it is a well-known quote from the Bible, in particular from Genesis, 3, 19.
The dust put on our heads brings us back to earth, it reminds us that we come from the earth and that we will return to earth. That is, we are weak, fragile, mortal.
Today is a special Wednesday for Christians because it marks the beginning of Lent, a period of fourty days in which each believer is called to be better. To do this, he/she has some aids available: prayer, fasting, forgiveness and charity.
Prayer is a dialogue with a Special Interlocutor. We often confuse it with a list of needs and then get angry because we don’t get their fulfillment right away. Maybe in these cases we get confused and, like “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” we believe we are God and begin to want to take control.
Our Special Interlocutor is as good as a father and mother who listens to their children and knows very well that many of the requests are not for the good of them. Here is the importance of those “no” received from our parents when we were children. Of course, in those moments, those “no” made us cry, angry, maybe even react physically against our impassive parent facing of our whims. Now that we are adults, perhaps parents ourselves, we are grateful for those “no”.
Only after many years and after having also covered the same role of those who had not listened to us, we understand that if we had received only “yes” we would not have been really happy and maybe we would have lost ourselves in the sadness of a child who knows that he gets everything and immediately from his parents just because parents themselves are not interested in him and don’t want to be bothered.
Praying means first of all thanking for what we have and also for what we don’t have. Personally I learned to pray by asking God for the strength to accept his “no” even when it is difficult for me to understand why.
Exactly like when I was a child I did not understand the “no” of my parents but I am sure that the time will come for me to understand the “no” of God. He knows what my good really is. All I have to do is trust exactly as a child.
Quitting to pray because we receive back “no” would be comparable to a child who stops talking to his parents because he has not obtained the fulfillment of his desire for him. We understand very well that, in the end, we actually act against ourselves, precluding the possibility of those who love us to help us grow and improve.
Fasting is a tool of self-education and a form of exercise. We live in a historical era in which we have an abundance of food and a variety of choices that no longer even follow the order of the seasons. In itself it is not bad. It is certainly a great luck compared to those who lived in times when there was not even the possibility of easily storing food.
Yet all this well-being has created negative situations: obesity, food waste, unconditional exploitation of the earth and pollution. Fasting can mean giving up the usual mid-day coffee or the usual dessert after lunch.
Christians, in particular, are required to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent. The meaning of this command is deep but this is not the time to drill down a merely religious aspect.
What I’d like to stress is that this precept would lose its meaning if we replaced a steak with a lobster. This is why fasting is not just a matter of what you may eat or not, but above all of why we deprive ourselves of something that we normally have in our daily life.
In our time it would be much easier to ask for a complete fast from food for a whole day than to ask for a few hours’ fast on the television or smartphone. If fasting is a tool of education, we know very well what a useful fast would be for us.
The aim must be to improve ourselves. With the deprivation of something to which we are “slaves” surely we would emerge stronger and freer. Fasting is therefore absolutely not a penance but a real exercise in which we train both the body and the mind to an important goal: freedom above all from our slavery.
Forgiveness is a release from a burden. It is often believed that forgiveness is an action against a wrong received from others, but it is not that simple. We are all well aware that the most difficult forgiveness is towards ourselves. We are very familiar with our actions and our omissions.
We try to cover them by filling our days of “things” to do but in the evening, once lying in bed, in the silence of the night it is precisely there that our heart feels the boulders of our sins. Consciousness reflects to us what we really are without filters and this causes suffering in many.
Often a solution is sought through drugs, or by hanging to third parties, psychologists and more or less serious professionals. Yet the solution is so simple and it just depends on us.
The sacrament of confession is nothing other than taking the courage to say in words what we feel within us.
God does not need us to tell him our sins because He knows us well, moreover, he has even already forgiven us. The real problem is that the dirtier we feel, the less we dare to look at ourselves in a clean Subject, with a pure heart. Having the courage to make external, with words, what we have internally relieves us immediately and helps us to understand that from every situation of sin there is at least one solution to get out free.
Charity is opening our life to others. Shifting our attention from our interests to the problems of those around us. Turning our gaze to those who ask us for help, often a silent help that echoes in our hardened hearts.
The charitable act must not be carried out for the sole purpose of being approved, it would be hypocrisy, and it would not be useful to truly improve ourselves.
Pope Francis in one of his speeches said that “charity and mercy are closely linked, because they are God’s way of being and acting: his identity and his name”. Through works of charity and mercy we can draw near to the love of God. By its very nature, charity is communicated, it spreads. This is why through charity we draw close to others. We were not born to live alone, isolated from others. In this particular period we are called to direct our daily activities less towards our personal gain and more towards those around us, friends, acquaintances, strangers we cross on the streets and the whole world.
On this day called “Ash Wednesday”, whoever goes to church receives ashes on their heads from the priest. This ritual reminds us that it makes no sense to dedicate our life to chasing the vanishing dust. Pope Francis in one of his homily urged us to ask ourselves a question: “What do I live for?” And he went on to say that “if we live for the things of the world that pass, we go back to dust”.
Again recalling the words of our Pope, “the ashes settle on our heads so that the fire of love is kindled in our hearts”.
We wish all of you who follow us to always keep the fire of love alive. To do this, just follow the exercises for the body and spirit that we have described to you.
In 40 days we will enjoy the Easter holidays and the arrival of spring. May it be a time of personal rebirth for each of us.
Enjoy the workout!
Disclaimer Photo by Kunj Parekh on Unsplash