Good Enough For Me
And it came to pass yours truly went to the Ash Wednesday mass, and listened to the homily. At times, yours truly wishes he could not listen to the homily because he is scared of what he is going to hear. But this time, he was fairly relaxed.
Therefore, I was surprised when the priest chose to put a strange “spin” on the meaning of the ashes. In short, he said that the ashes represent the remains of the sins and bad habits we burn during lent, which will fertilise our Christian life just as the ashes fertilise the soil.
I found the context questionable. Whilst the image of the burned remains of the sinful habits which lead to a more fertile Christian life is certainly orthodox and even beautiful, it seems to me that the main message of Ash Wednesday has been – perhaps unwittingly so, perhaps willingly so – diluted.
When the priest marks my forehead he is giving me a traditional, very simple, very brutal message: My body is dust waiting to happen. This message is, I always thought, exactly the message of Ash Wednesday. One can have twenty other similes for the ashes, and one can certainly use them with great profit during the year. But in my simple mind, the simile used by the priest is just not what Ash Wednesday is about.
You might say that I am fussing here, and I possibly am. But in the climate of demolition we are experiencing I cannot avoid seeing subtle attempts at sabotage in everything that deviates from what my grandmas would have legitimately expected to hear. Not can I imagine that in the time of my grandmas the priest would have avoided mentioning the real issue (the Four Last things) rather than wandering about in the realm of Catholic imagery.
Mind: not one word was changed in the liturgy, there were no abuses of sort. The words with which the priest put the ashes on the forehead of the faithful were exactly the same you would expect to hear. The real message of Ash Wednesday was clear enough. But… this was only thanks to the liturgy, not the priest. The priest actually gave the impression he wanted to make of the message something else. More likely, the priest was unwilling to repeat in the homily the brutal message to spread which Ash Wednesday exists, and decided to give the faithful a softly-softly “alternative reading” of it. Not in order to deny the point, but in order not to have to dwell on it.
As you can expect, the Four Last Things were never mentioned, but the word “joy” was uttered several times. This seems to be the word V II churches consider as obligatory as “Amen”, and the true essence of Catholicism.
How I long for the times when the priests spoke of death, judgment, heaven and hell instead of always shoving alternative readings of familiar concepts and the omnipresent “joy” down our throats.
Give me that old time religion. It’s good enough for me.