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Saturday, April 01, 2006

MEMENTO, homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.

REMEMBER, O man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.

Something struck me on Ash Wednesday this year which I have often recognized but little considered before. As the priest placed the ashes on our foreheads it was a reminder that our lives here on earth are but a brief sojourn which will inevitably result in our corporal decay. This contrasts strongly with society’s fear of death and mortality – in which such recognition of mortality is almost unheard of.

What struck me about this was how little our modern secular society thinks about such things. People act as if they are immortal. The whole of society seems geared towards a materialistic and nihilistic viewpoint. Consequences are irrelevant provided that people are satiated today whether in terms of alcohol, drugs, money or sex. Although I am not considering this in terms of specific sins but rather the attitude which fosters their casual acceptance as the parameters by which we judge happiness in this life. There is no fear or realisation of our inescapable fate and certainly no concern about having to account for our sins and misdemeanours in the next world. In fact the latter point would seem like madness to most people – whose ideas of religion, particularly Christianity, are equated with total and absolute forgiveness – the idea that since God is good he will forgive us all whatever we do.

In the UK I think much of the blame for this attitude can be laid squarely at the foot of the Church of England, which fails to tackle moral issues in a serious manner, preferring instead to issue the vaguest of statements open to numerous interpretations. Quite frankly there is very little tangible difference that I can see they have ever made to any ethical issue of importance. As Catholics we (should) know that we are judged on our actions here on earth and that therefore it is important to both avoid sin and to seek that forgiveness which only the Church is empowered to grant. By acknowledging our mortality we are able to realise the importance of this. That is not to say one should be morbid or obsessed with knowledge of death and judgment. Rather it can be a force to allow us to live our lives better through service to God by an awareness of the preciousness of life and the importance of our actions.

The traditional Mass, with its inestimable graces, is the best means of shifting the focus of our society away from man towards God. It maybe at first that this can help shift society’s thinking in only a small way but it is no less significant for that.

“And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold."

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