Ash Wednesday


When I open my bedroom curtains each morning the sight that greets me is that of the churchyard of St Peter’s, Wolvercote, which is situated next door to our Society headquarters at 4 First Turn. As I looked upon that scene this morning on the first day of Lent I was reminded of some words of the former Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Basil Hume, in his book called Searching for God.

“There is something chilling, austere about the thought of Lent: the same feeling I get when I go into a graveyard.

I recall the words of Ash Wednesday: ‘Remember man that you are dust and to dust you will return.’ Musing on this I thought about the connection between death and Lent. ‘Death’ the late Professor Zaehner wrote ‘is God’s gift to man, a gift we should accept, not in fear and trembling, but in joy’. I like the words ‘Death is God’s gift to man…’ We are destined for death, but this death, this gift from God that will ultimately come to us, is the gateway to a life which is a releasing of the human and divine life in our hearts, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Throughout Lent we keep our eyes on those great days, the last days of Holy Week. We prepare for them not only because we are preparing to involve ourselves more closely in the mystery of Christ’s Death and Resurrection as we celebrate it liturgically, but because death is a reality which each one of us must face. But those ashes will live again.”

For me, the headstones in St Peter’s Churchyard do more than mark the graves of those who are buried there. They remind me of my own mortality and of the great company of the faithful who have already left this world – in effect returned to dust - including those who have served or benefited from the mission of the St Barnabas (Converts Aid) Society. But it is not in a churchyard like the one in Wolvercote that I feel close to them. It is at the altar in our little house chapel as Mass is celebrated each day. Each Mass reminds us that we have been created by God, not for death but for life, not for the grave but for Heaven. Yes, “those ashes will live again.”This is the belief upon which our Catholic faith is founded.  So while there is inevitably “something chilling, austere about the thought of Lent” there is joy too. For Lent leads to Easter and death to eternal life.