Quantcast

Viewpoint

Ashes

By

Our hand froze before twisting open the hospital room door knob. “No Visitors Allowed,” the sign read. The wife pushed me gently forward. We tiptoed in.

Hooked to IV tubes, the gaunt man on the bed was a friend for decades. His kindnesses were many. He never wallowed in self-pity. Tears welled as he gripped my hand. “Good of you to come,” he gasped. “I’m fighting.”

A chaplain earlier anointed him, then gave communion as “Viaticum”—Latin for the “way with you.” My friend wouldn’t cross  the passageway alone.  Hindi  siya  mag-iisa. At a loss for words, I squeezed his hand. Goodbye is  said in many ways.

As we closed the door, Thomas á Kempis’ words resonated. “Man is here today and tomorrow he is gone… You’re a fool if you assume you’ll live long, when you’re not even sure of one day… You will pass the same way.”

Most of us duck the reality of mortality year round. “I know everyone has to die,” 77-year-old artist Woody Allen wrote. “I just never imagined it would happen to me.” Ash Wednesday rites tomorrow nudge us to get real. We all journey to the grave.

On the  Dies  Cinerum  or “Day of Ashes,” cinder is traced on the foreheads of all those who step forward. That includes slum-dwellers, “walang  ngipin  at  salawal,” gated-enclave residents, those “who defy age and time with four-day stem cell treatment in Germany,” even Presidents. Assassin’s bullets cut down Anwar Sadat in a Cairo  parade. Ramon Magsaysay’s plane slammed into Mt. Manunggal and exploded in a ball of fire.

Kings are not exempted. Lost for 527 years, Richard III’s moldering bones, still bearing a metal arrow, were excavated by scientists this month from a car park in Leicester in the United Kingdom.

Wednesday’s ashes come from burnt Palm Sunday 2012 fronds. With oil of the catechumens, ashes are stirred into a paste. Then, a priest or lay minister traces the moist dust on foreheads. The rite harks back to the sentence handed down in an Eden marred by disobedience: “By the sweat of your brow you shall get bread to eat, until you return to the dust from where you were taken.”

Death cannot be bribed. Only $658 million was recovered from Ferdinand Marcos’ estimated loot of $5 to $10 billion, the Christian Science Monitor reports in “How Dictators Stash Their Cash.” Marcos’ corpse is mummified. Gone, too, is  Haiti’s “Baby Doc” Duvalier ($5.8 million recovered from $600 million stolen).

The eighth-century “Gregorian Sacramentary” details this rite which starts the 40-day Lenten period. But ashes go way back. “The other eye wandereth of its own accord,” Job wrote more than two millennia before Christ. “Wherefore, I repent in dust and ashes.”

“What is the meaning of our strange behavior?” asked the Anglican archbishop of Canterbury in his 2011 book “Writing in the Dust.” “Three things, I believe. With these Lenten ashes, we confess. We promise. We hope—in a journey towards renewal.”

The three ascetical pillars of Lent—prayer, fasting and sharing with the needy—are common to major faiths. Muslims observe Ramadan. Jews fast on Yom Kippur. Hindus and Buddhists set aside days for fasting.

Probably, the shortest way of putting meaning to Lent and its sacrifices is “God teaching us how to take pain like a man,” the late Filipino historian Horacio de la Costa wrote. “Pain is part and parcel of living. This is how God made pain pay. He loved me, and He delivered Himself up for me.”

The real experts on love are those who have suffered much. Ask your own fathers and mothers. And they will tell you love is not nonsense about moonlight and roses. Love is giving, going without, making do—for the one you love. It takes much out of you and pierces like a lance.

Yet they would not exchange it for all the world, parents will add. “One of the soldiers pierced His side with a lance, and immediately there came out blood and water.” The little self-denials we practice during Lent will not seem so hard after all, will they?

In this ancient tradition, there have been “some refreshingly untraditional directions” of late, notes America magazine. In earlier Lents, Catholics were encouraged to “give something up,” e.g., movies, a second helping of dessert, etc. More common today are invitations to “do something positive.”

Vatican II underlined the idea of “social sin.” Where, for example, do you participate in structures that perpetuate sinful practices? Instead of giving up chocolate, could you ensure your company pays a fairer wage?

How about legislators here giving up, for good, their self-exemptions from audit into their spending of tax money? The last Social Weather Stations survey found “an estimated 3.3 million families experiencing involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months.”  They make do with  altanghap. That’s breakfast (almusal), lunch (tanghalian) and supper (hapunan) stitched into one. Share your food.

“When we hear the words, ‘Remember, you are dust,’ we are also told we are brothers and sisters of the incarnate Lord,” theologian Karl Rahner wrote. “We are nothingness that is filled with eternity; death that teems with life; futility that redeems; dust that is God’s life.”

Lent’s ashes make two choices clear. “This day … I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses,” Moses told his rebellious people. “Choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Beyond a handful of ashes is an offer of “life to the full.” After Ash Wednesday is Easter Sunday—and an empty tomb.

* * *

E-mail: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com


Follow Us


Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=46751

Tags: Ash Wednesday , death , FAITH , mortality , Religion



Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
Advertisement

News

  • Mayor’s assassination linked to black sand mining controversy
  • Initial batch of Etihad passengers tested negative for MERS-CoV
  • After bombs, Boston Marathon under tight security
  • Port Area fire spares Red Cross warehouse
  • PNP may use ‘reasonable force’ against of Etihad Airlines passengers refusing medical test
  • Sports

  • Reigning champs Miami open playoffs with win
  • Spurs subdue Mavericks in playoff opener
  • Wawrinka beats Federer to win Monte Carlo Masters
  • Ageless Hopkins pitches 50-50 Mayweather deal
  • Goodbye MGM, Las Vegas for Pacquiao?
  • Lifestyle

  • Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  • Transitions and resurrection in the performing arts
  • ‘Archaeology tour’ of Cebu’s heritage of faith
  • Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  • ‘Imports’ from London, and play of the year
  • Entertainment

  • Lindsay Lohan says she had a miscarriage
  • Discovery network cancels Everest jump
  • ‘Captain America’ stays strong atop US box office
  • Easter musings
  • Solenn in shorts
  • Business

  • Oil prices down in quiet Asian trade
  • Asian shares mixed in holiday-thinned trade
  • BDO seen keen on bidding for Cocobank
  • Bataan freeport investment pledges up 1,302%
  • Golden Week
  • Technology

  • PH has slowest internet in Southeast Asia
  • Nintendo’s trailblazing Game Boy marks 25th anniversary
  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Opinion

  • Gigi’s home
  • Palace stonewalls on MRT inquiry
  • Couple of things too
  • There is plenty of water behind Wawa Dam
  • Triduum thoughts of a young boy
  • Global Nation

  • Filipinos in Middle East urged not to panic amid MERS-CoV scare
  • Obama on mission to quiet Asia skeptics
  • Search for Etihad passengers launched
  • Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  • Tim Tebow’s charity hospital in Davao seen to open in 7 months
  • Marketplace