The following reflection for Ash Wednesday was written by Fr Ian Doulton SDB, the editor of Don Bosco’s Madonna, Mumbai
Fire and Ashes
A few years ago I read a meditation that said Lent is a season that begins in ashes and ends in fire: it begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with the kindling of the new fire at the Great Vigil of Easter; it begins with the mark of penitence and ends with the promise of redemption; it begins with the ashes of mortality and ends with the light of life eternal. The author made the point that such a movement from ashes to fire is contrary to what we usually experience in life and nature. Our experience is that fire comes first and when the fire has burned itself out, ashes are all that remain – ashes that are cold, dead, and useless. The Lenten movement from ashes to fire reverses our usual experience of things, this author said, and lifts us to a higher contemplation of the way God’s grace overcomes fallen nature in Christ.
But it occurred to me only lately that the movement from ashes to fire, and its meaning for our journeys of faith, may not be so absent from nature as it may at first seem. Trees live because they draw nutrients and chemical constituents from the soil which they take up into themselves and transform the ashes of other lives. Fire, therefore, comes forth from ashes in the processes of life.
Photo: Benjamin DeYoung on Unsplash
Our lives are also fire-kindled from older ashes. Our whole planet is. Some ten billion years ago a giant star exploded in a supernova, and spread its dust and ashes all over our little region of the galaxy. When that cloud of dust collapsed on itself under its own gravity, it ignited hydrogen fusion at its core, and our Sun and solar system were born. The chemicals of the supernova combined in new forms on the young Earth, and eventually gave rise to elegant self-sustaining chains of reactions: life. All the living creatures on our planet, including us, depend on the special atoms created in a supernova billions of years ago. We are fire, kindled from the ashes of ancient stars. Fire comes forth from ashes in the processes of the universe.
And that gives us a clue to God’s way with us as well. In our lives, too, God is able to take brokenness and sorrow and loss and transform them into the possibility of healing and growth and joy. Just as God’s creative power takes up the ashes of dead stars and kindles new worlds. He takes up the ashes of past lives and kindles a new creature; he takes up the ashes of our experience and kindles a new fire of love. That is what Lent is all about. Our Lenten movement from ashes to fire is a sign of God’s creating and redeeming grace that takes us up and opens us to new life. Our Lenten season is an invitation to let God blaze in us anew. Our special disciplines – prayer, fasting and self-denial, almsgiving and works of mercy – are ways for us to clear our minds and hearts, to ‘un-distract’ ourselves, so that God’s grace may kindle ashes into fire in us. Lent can be for us a time to renew our role in God’s great creative dance in all the world.
Fr Ian Doulton SDB
Don Bosco’s Madonna, March edition, Mumbai, 2016
For your own reflection
From Fr David O'Malley SDB's MOT for Lent
Do not be shaped by this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect behaviour.
In Lent the church asks that we take up a more disciplined life and, in our minds, join Jesus in the desert where he was tempted.
- In the desert Jesus denied himself food to strengthen his will and to keep his spiritual focus on the Father. So this lent, what do we need to fast from so that we are physically and morally stronger and more alive?
- In the desert, Jesus spent long periods of time in prayer, talking to his Father and reflecting on the work he was called to do. How do I bring my body into the regular discipline of prayer? What distracts me? What can help me to pray better in Lent?
- In Lent the church invites us to live simply, to let go of things that hold us back from living a less cluttered life and we are invited to give away things to those in need, to share food, to donate time and resources to others. In short to be charitable.
We ask you to trade the ashes of our lives for the beauty of your Presence.
Trade our mourning and grief for the oil of joy and gladness from your Spirit.
Trade our despair for hope and praise.
We thank you for being at work right now, trading our ashes for greater beauty.
We praise you, for you make all things new.
In Jesus’ Name,
Thank you to Fr Graham Forristalle SDB for additional material and guidance.