Lately I have been meditating a great deal on the end of my life. Since the death of my grandmother and the death of my wife's grandfather, I have taken many an opportunity to think about life, death, judgement, and what is really important.
As I think back with fondness on the lives of these dear people I have a persistent thought that they are gone from this world. In due time, even their happy memory living in my heart and the hearts of others will fade away. All that they had, all they accomplished, all that they meant to friends, enemies, neighbors, and family will be forgotten save for a stone with their name. Yet their names are written in the book of life and that, in the end, is all that matters.
This of course may sound depressing to some but to me it is a call to holiness. It is a realization that this world is not the end but rather a means to the end, a perfect end - God. It is not and should not be my focus. Yes, I must live in this world but I must live for the world to come - remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin.
As a father has compassion on his sons,
the Lord has pity on those who fear him;
for he knows of what we are made,
he remembers that we are dust
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flowers like the flower of the field;
the wind blows and he is gone
and his place never sees him again. - Psalm 103:13-16
On this Ash Wednesday we are reminded that we are dust. We are reminded that God formed us out of dust and one day our body will return to the earth from which it came. We are reminded to remember the end of your life.
All of the great saints meditated often on the "four last things - death, judgement, heaven, and hell." This is a pious practice that helps keep things in perspective. It is what Saint Thomas More perceived as "medicinal herbs" in the battle against the spiritual sicknesses. It is a reality check and an energizer to "run so as to win."
As we enter into this long, slow, painful death to self that we call Lent let us seek to die to self, die with Christ so that we may rise again with Him on Easter Sunday.
"Without God, all that remains of man's greatness is that little pile of dust, in a dish, at one side of the altar, on Ash Wednesday." - Jacques Leclercq
"These ashes on my forehead are merely the beginning of my burial, to be followed, in years to come, by shovels full." - Michael H. James
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