Who we are—more than dust
Ash Wednesday

St. Andrew's Cathedral
March 1, 2017

~ Download this homily


“You are made in the image and likeness of God, because God’s breath has been breathed into that miserable bowl of dust—and that has changed everything.”

~ Bishop Gary Gordon


I’m just going to pass out the ashes. It’s one of those opportunities in the life of the Church where we use what’s called a Sacramental. It’s not a sacrament, but it’s a symbol and a sign, so I am wanting people to hold on to that. Don’t pass it around, because if you spill it, I don’t have any more, and there’s an awful lot of people here, looking to get ashes put on their foreheads. 

So, now, you hold that dish, and you just look at that little bowl of dust, ok? That’s what you are. You should get used to it. That’s what we are. We’re made from the dust of the earth, and we go back to the dust of the earth. It’s a rather pitiful situation, isn’t it? And it’s not something that we really want to advertise! “Come to the Catholic Church, and the Bishop will tell you what you are—a miserable bowl of dust!”

But I also want to tell you who you are. You are made in the image and likeness of God, because God’s breath has been breathed into that miserable bowl of dust—and that has changed everything. Who we are is God’s breath, breathed into the dust to create this most amazing work of art: You. That’s something you’ve got to get used to. Who you are.

What you are, the world will never stop telling you. What you are is why the advertising campaigns of the world are so successful. But who you are is what we celebrate as Christians. The who. You and me. Made in the image and likeness of God.

And so Lent, this beautiful time of 40 days, is a wonderful time when we come to terms with the reality of what we are, and who we are as chosen by God, given God’s life-breath, and invited on an amazing path to rediscover who we are in Jesus Christ. Who we are as children of God, and not just who you are, and you are, and you are, but the invitation of Lent is to know deeply who everyone is! No one is excluded from having God’s life-breath breathed into them, and being so precious, so very precious, to have gained so great a Redeemer as the Eternal Son of God.

If you have any doubt about who you are as the most precious, the most beloved of God’s, just look up at the Cross. Gaze upon the infinite mercy of God. Every time you want to go to that place of what you are … Oh, I’m not this and I’m not that, Oh my goodness, I’m not perfect, Oh, I’m just a bumbling Bishop … Oh, woe is me! When we buy into the world’s definition of what we are, then we must look up at the Cross, and see who we are. Redeemed. Chosen. Loved.

One of the wonderful benefits of being nine hours behind Rome is that I get to look up the Pope’s homily. And sometimes, he says some really amazing things. I want to give you a couple of lines from what Pope Francis said, to get Lent going.

Lent is the time to breathe again. To recognize in each life’s breath the mystery of God’s love for you. Each breath is a gift. It’s given out of total abandoned love for you, and for everyone. It’s beautiful. So the Pope says to the Church today, Lent is the time to breathe again.

Perhaps during this beautiful season, when we rush off to try and renew the New Year’s Resolutions, and do some good works, and maybe do some fasting, and some almsgiving, all important activities … perhaps we should just pause, take 15 seconds, and count the number of breaths we take in that period of time ... start counting now!

Stop! How many breaths did you get. 18! Boy! That’s great! You’re alive! How many did you get! 3? OK—wake up!

Just do that every day. Breathe. And at the end, say Thank you to God for each one of those breaths. They are gifts. It makes us mindful of who we are—the life-breath the Creator himself breathed into us.

Secondly, Pope Francis said this: Make room in our life for all the good we are able to do. It means, probably, putting aside time for all the good we are able to do. Don’t let a good intention go undone.

Everybody has good intentions, every day. We walk by somebody on the street, and we make a decision: are we going to smile at them, or not smile at them? Maybe we’re on the way to the Cathedral, and we think to ourselves, I see that same guy standing at the same corner every time I come to the Cathedral. I should ask him his name.

We’ve been saying that to ourselves for 15 years! So act! Act on every good intention. Make room in our life for all the good that we are able to do.

Lent. Forty days of an amazing journey of who we are. Who we are is not a bowl of dust. Who we are is an infinitely loved, wonderful work of art—and everybody else is too. To take off our shoes in the presence of the other because they are beloved of God—it’s beautiful isn’t it?

Have a good Lent. Breathe. Breathe. And if in this beautiful journey of Lent you have any doubts, any doubts at all about who you are, look up at the Crucifix. As St. Pope John Paul II said in his very first Encyclical on the Redeemer of Man, Redemptor Hominis, how great must the human person be to have gained so great a Redeemer (RH 10). The Crucifix is beautiful, and it’s the promise of eternal life because of love. For you, and for me.

Remember we are dust, and to dust we will return. Remember we are infinitely loved and given life forever by God’s love.

That’s called Good News. Amen!


Last Updated

Jun 8, 2017

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