Life does not have to be this way. You don’t have to be this way. This is what the ashes say. You can begin again. You can be a new person. What you require, all that you require has been here all along. You need only return to the mystery of your own baptism. Resolve today to return.
Remember Dorothy’s ruby slippers? They were given to her when she first entered the Land of Oz. Though she didn’t realize it, she did not need to search and to struggle to find her way home. What she needed had already been given to her at the beginning.
If you feel lost, if you are unhappy with your life or, worse yet, with your very self, it does not have to be this way.
That is the message of this day, the meaning of the ashes. You have been baptized. Christ has claimed you as his own. If you feel lost, if you are unhappy with your life or, worse yet, with your very self, it does not have to be this way.
Even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the Lord, your God (Jl 2:12-13a).
Ashes remind you that what you eke out for yourself using only your own devices counts for little. What matters is that you are loved. You have a Father, and you have been redeemed by his Son. Their Spirit breathes within you. You are not alone, though you do need to strengthen your faith. That is the purpose of the days to come. Even Dorothy had to believe.
Remember that all of the church’s symbols are interlaced. They illumine each other. Follow the ashes through the weeks of Lent to the baptismal waters of Easter and then on to the fiery Spirit who descends at Pentecost. Taken together, the message is profoundly rich yet strikingly simple:
Behold, now is a very acceptable time;
behold, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2).
Life does not have to be this way. You do not have to be this way. You have always had the power to come home to your baptism, to be God’s dream of yourself.