Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB has called on Catholic faithful in Guyana to reflection and prayer to mend the nation’s “divisions and the divisiveness… especially where we see these played out in ethnicity, politics, and gender…” He made this call in his Lenten message as told to Catholic Standard.
Following is the full text.
For the distribution of ashes this year, as recommended by the Vatican in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual tracing of a cross with ash on the forehead was replaced with the sprinkling of a small amount of ash over the heads of the faithful. This was to avoid any physical contact in keeping with the pandemic protocols.
This change was a concrete reminder to us that we still have the threat of coronavirus over our heads and we must not compromise our vigilance. In this regard, it was assuring to see that all who received ashes in the way, different from usual, willingly complied with the change. This was my observation at the four Masses celebrated on Ash Wednesday at the Cathedral and it was good to see.
In the process of administering the ashes and saying the words “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, I was struck by the similarity of this gesture to the practice of placing ash (soil, sand) over a coffin or casket and saying the same words.
It is most fitting that we reflect on our mortality during this time of Lent. The verse that we recite is taken from the book of Genesis 3:19. As a consequence of disobedience, God says to Adam that by the sweat of his brow he will have to earn his food from the ground (earth, soil, dust) until he returns to the same soil from which he was formed.
The dust, the ash, invites us to reflect on our disobedience; the ways in which we have deviated from the original stature, grace, goodness, beauty, freedom, and harmony stamped into creation. And we do not have to look far to see so many of our brothers and sisters labouring under various expressions of fear, insecurity, misconception, deception, and aggressiveness; labouring to earn and restore a due measure of respect, dignity, freedom, acknowledgment, affirmation, and opportunity.
We human beings have acted in ways such as to deprive each other of what was and is given by God. From our reflection during these days of Lent, may we see the ways to bring relief from our present state of disconnect from our God and one another.
Also, very symbolic in the distribution of ashes is that we are all of the same dust, composed of the same basic elements, we share a common humanity, we are all vulnerable yet wired for possibility. In particular, let us bring to our reflection, prayer, and resolve, during these days of Lent, the mending of divisions and the divisiveness around us especially where we see these played out in ethnicity, politics, and gender, to name a few of the areas where this is evident.
It struck me too, during the celebration of Mass and distribution of ashes, that the same persons to whom I went to share the ashes I also went to give communion. Common to our shared humanity is the ash and belongingness to the Body of Christ.
And ash is also fertile, cleansing and purifying. When we say we are dust this is also implied. Let us especially bring this to our prayer during these days of Lent that these days will also be energising and open ways for renewal, healing, hope, new life, and Resurrection.