remember that you are dust…

My Lenten resolution this year is to rise above the doom and gloom and have a ‘happy’ Lent. Yet here we are on Ash Wednesday, being reminded of our mortality. We are signed with ashes and the words Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. The gentler version intones Repent, and believe in the Gospel. A nice thought, but it lacks the spiritual kick in the rear-end of the former.

Our society is programmed into avoiding thoughts of death. Funeral parlors now handle the messiness of dying and grieving for us. We forget that the process of letting go of a loved one doesn’t end when the funeral lunch is cleared away. Last Sunday, I greeted a man in our parish that lost his wife several months ago. “How are you doing, E—?”, I asked. He answered, “I’m doing it alone. It’s really hard after 47 years together.” With those words, he invited me to share his grief. He reminded me that his grief needed to be shared and not forgotten.

St. Benedict wanted his monks to daily keep death before their eyes. It seems such a morbid practice. But, speak to anyone who has faced and escaped death and they will tell you of a renewed appreciation for life. Keeping death before your eyes helps put the pettiness into perspective. It encourages you to revisit your own “bucket list”, those things that you want to do before you leave this world. These aren’t so much the grand gestures or great adventures, but the more simple “how do I want to be remembered?” Usually the doing won’t be remembered as much as the loving.

Over at the Prairie Messenger, staff and readers are mourning the loss of a great Catholic voice here on the Canadian prairies. Fr. Andrew Britz, OSB, was the editor of the PM from 1983-2004. He fearlessly challenged the Church and each of us to keep the spirit of Vatican II alive. The newspaper he led became known for allowing all voices to be heard in a true spirit of catholicity.

Maureen Weber, associate editor, wrote a tribute to the man who was both long-time friend and mentor to her. She describes well the paradox of death to persons of faith,

Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin of Chicago, one of Rev. Andrew Britz’s heroes, once said, “We can look at death as an enemy or a friend. If we see it as an enemy, death causes anxiety and fear. We tend to go into a state of denial. But if we see it as a friend, our attitude is truly different. As a person of faith, I see death as a friend, as the transition from earthly life to life eternal.”

When we lose someone, though, death is seen as a thief, not a friend. My friend Andrew Britz, OSB, died Feb. 14. A man of great faith, Andrew viewed death as a friend. But we were robbed. read more