CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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… and to dust you shall return

HONG KONG (SE): Lent began on Ash Wednesday with parishes around Hong Kong reporting good attendance at Masses for the traditional distribution of the ashes on February 10, despite being the last holiday for the beginning of the Year of the Monkey.

During the ceremony, ashes are placed in the sign of the cross on the forehead of each person, as the minister says, “Repent and believe in the gospel,” or the more earthy and closely connected with the environment where we live, “Remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return.”

In his book, Jesus and the Natural World, Father Denis Edwards points out, “In Jesus of Nazareth, God has become an Earth creature, one of us, part of the interconnected web of life, so that all of Earth’s creatures might be transformed in God.”

It is important to be at home in the place where we live. Jesus was at home in his environment and this sense of place has a deep religious connotation, which is closely related to our physicality, the five senses of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste.

This gives us an appreciation of place, which dominates our lives, as memories, stories, friends and experiences are all place centred, so feeling at home in our world is important to our well-being.

Although the bulk of Hong Kong may be covered with concrete, it does have beautiful natural spaces as well, where the beauty of God’s creation is on display and, even within the concrete jungle, each person has at least a little space which is sacred to their life.

The simple ceremony on Ash Wednesday is a reminder that we belong in the world and the injunction that we will return to dust is comforting, as we will always be part of the great life-giving cycle of nature.

In some parts of the world, Church people go into the streets and offer the ashes to all and sundry; outside railway stations, in shopping centres and suburban streets. 

Most have found that the response of people of many kinds of faith and none at all is positive and appreciative.


In the long run is it a challenge to be transformed.

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