Last Wednesday, Feb. 14, was Ash Wednesday, which marked the first day of the Lenten season. If you attended mass that day then you also received ashes on your forehead and heard one of two phrases: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” or “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

It is the latter of these two phrases that I believe invokes greater, and more immediate, self-reflection upon hearing it. You are made up of an immortal soul sustained by God and a mortal body sustained largely by the physical world. The soul will last forever, but the body will not. We should always keep in mind the idea of Memento Mori: “Remember your death.” This life, while exceptionally important, is fleeting and should be used to seek God in preparation for the next. 

The phrase, “Take care of your body as if you were going to live forever, and take care of your soul as if you were going to die tomorrow” is attributed to St. Augustine. This phrase calls us to reflect on the uncertainty of life and our obligations as creatures entrusted with a body and soul. It takes years to alter the body through rigid routine, but only a moment of lapsed judgment to mortally wound the soul. Any day the soul could be separated from the body, so it is the constant job of the Catholic to heed the reminders of their mortality and strive for repentance. 

One tradition, which I give credence to but anyone is free to reject, surrounds the life of Lazarus. It is claimed that in the thirty years following his resurrection at the hands of Jesus, Lazarus never smiled again due to what he saw during his four days in Hades. The only exception was an occasion in which Lazarus witnessed a man steal a clay jar and remarked to himself, “The clay steals the clay.” It is quite possible that this story is apocryphal, but even if it is, so what? It is still a sobering reminder of not only the reality of death but also the very real possibility of dying outside of God’s grace. There is nothing I can do to prevent my body from returning to dust, however, there are ways I can cooperate with grace to prevent my soul from being eternally cut off from His presence. 

All of this is to say that Lent is the solution to any fear or uncertainty that these traditions or phrases may cause us. It is a time when we are called to give something up in our lives so that we may both improve our condition here on earth and the health of our eternal souls. We fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as an exercise in both body and spirit to live more in line with God’s will. This year I have decided to give up complaining for lent. While it may seem like an unorthodox choice of something to give up, it should help my spiritual growth and lay the foundation for me to permanently give up the practice.  

“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life, after all? For you are like a mist that appears for a brief time and then vanishes. Instead, what you ought to say is, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we shall live to do this or that.’” – James 5:14-15

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